Jean-Baptiste Cabantous grew up with a vivid imagination, always dreaming of different realities. He loved the movies and how they made him imagine other worlds and their potential. His career started with a job at Disneyland Paris. For a young man with an avid love of alternate realities it was a great place to start, with so many different worlds colliding in the same place. At Annette’s Diner there, he learnt all there is to know about restaurant work and it was here that he got the idea of creating his own fifties-style diner.
Not knowing of any places in Paris with a real fifties-style experience, he took a gamble and started to plan a restaurant in the city center at St. Michel. Jean-Baptiste wanted to create this first restaurant around the theme of Happy Days, the American TV show that idealized life from the mid-fifties to sixties, but there was one huge problem: None of the American suppliers wanted to deliver to Paris.
As expats, we all know the dilemma of paperwork and bureaucracy in France, but Jean-Baptiste persevered as his dream was to have real American products and an authentic experience in his restaurant. Eventually he found Bars and Booths, in the USA who agreed to meet him.
Never did he imagine that this meeting, an interfering aunt, and an exasperated comment would change his life forever!
When Jean-Baptiste met G.W. and Barbara, the owners of Bars and Booths, they got on famously. About five years after their business relationship began, when Jean-Baptiste flew Barbara and G.W. over for the opening of his fifth restaurant, Barbara showed Jean-Baptiste a picture of their niece, Tricia. Jean-Baptiste was enchanted but never once imagined he could have an opportunity to do more than think how lovely she was.
However, Barbara saw Jean-Baptiste’s reaction and encouraged him to speak with Tricia, thinking that perhaps they would get along. When Tricia received his Facebook friend request and saw he was already friends with other family members she accepted it, wondering «Who is this guy?». But she was skeptical, and avoided responding to his messages, thinking the entire situation was rather strange. She would take days or even weeks to reply to him, if at all.
On one occasion, Jean-Baptiste knew he was coming to Vegas for work so he asked Tricia, as he had countless times before, if he could fly over to D.C. and take her out for a cup of coffee (distance was never an issue for him, he asked often and even offered to fly from Paris to DC simply for a cup of coffee!). However, Tricia kept ignoring him or hesitating, so he finally wrote her a last message to say that he was not going to ask again, «I give up because I am chasing something that doesn’t appear to want to be caught!».
In the end it was Barbara who came to their rescue. She decided to set up a business meeting with Jean-Baptiste, telling Tricia to arrive at the end of their breakfast and assuring her that she would not leave unless Tricia was comfortable.
Jean-Baptiste felt nervous to be finally meeting Tricia and when he took the coffee service from the waiter to pour for the family, Tricia saw just how nervous he was. Her fears were laid to rest and she told her aunt that she could leave them alone. From that point on there was no more hesitation from Tricia. She never looked back!
Tricia remembers «I put my hand out for him to take it so I could pull him across the street. Jean-Baptiste just stared at it. I finally had to grab his hand! He never attempted to kiss me, so I had to initiate our first kiss. I didn’t fall in love at first sight, but I definitely fell in love over coffee. He kept me laughing all that day… and every day since. I was completely calm near him and he was a complete gentleman.»
For ten months they dated long distance, coping with a six hour time difference, and all the other difficulties separate lives entail when there are vast differences in culture, time-zones and busy careers to take into consideration. They prepared dinner together on FaceTime, watched their favorite shows together on the couch with FaceTime and did the normal things that couples do as they got to know each other, but from a distance.
Jean-Baptiste flew to Richmond, VA once a month for the week or even weekend, often leaving work on Friday and arriving home the next Monday having had little or no sleep, just to keep pursuing his dream. He had loved Tricia on sight, but he also loved his business dream and he was determined to include her in his vision!
Each time Jean-Baptiste saw Tricia, he knew waiting for her was worth it. He waited every day while she worked to see her afterwards. He waited as they grew to know each other…
Things began to change when he asked her to come to Europe and to see the Champion’s League final game, (Europe’s equivalent to the Super Bowl for soccer). Tricia thought, «Sure, I’ll go to a little football game.» Little did she know she was European at heart and would eventually support the opposite team to Jean-Baptiste’s!
In February 2014, Tricia quit her job and decided to move to Paris to be closer to her French prince! They had spent some time figuring out how best to love each other, and now they wanted to continue. Tricia was enchanted by Paris and became an avid PSG fan (Jean-Baptiste had grown up supporting Marseille). They found a flat and started to build their life together.
Jean-Baptiste had a last surprise for Tricia as they fell in love again day in and day out. He booked a surprise trip to Monaco and took her out on a gorgeous yacht for the day. As they were cruising on the sea, a plane flew overhead trailing a banner with the words: «Tricia, do you want to marry me?»
Jean-Baptiste has fallen in love with his wife every day since. Their marriage was held, by chance, on the anniversary of their first Facebook message, November 23rd.
They have three children and they live with a work/ life balance, focusing every day, on keeping happiness in their lives. According to Jean-Baptiste, «A dream can only be achieved if you have people around you to give it meaning.» For Jean-Baptiste his dream is sharing the magic of alternate realities with you.
They still work with Tricia’s family in the USA, seeing them every four months. They have built Happy Days Diner (HD Diner) into a chain with 10 restaurants in Paris, the suburbs and Lille.
Now, as their children grow, they realize how family needs to be incorporated into all aspects of life. They have made it a priority for parents with young children to have a pleasant dining experience, creating a kids’ corner in the Opéra and Levallois locations of HD Diner.
Jean-Baptiste and Tricia live the magic we all dream of and they owe their happiness an interfering aunt, an exasperated comment, perseverance and the courage to pursue a dream.
Imagine what you could achieve if you follow yours?
Tricia and Jean-Baptiste have shared 10 tips on how to make a long distance relationship work – see here