Canterbury Bid

Café Des Amis: 35 years in Canterbury

A photo of the exterior of Café des Amis at night

Business: Café des Amis
Location: 2 Westgate Grove, St Dunstans, Canterbury
Years of service: 35

While food fashions come and go, this independent, family-run restaurant on the corner by the river continues to be packed every night and has been feeding Canterbury for 35 years now.

Owners Bill and Emmanuelle Betham split their time between Canterbury and Hawaii (tough, right?) but their hearts lie here. Emmanuelle told us how it all started….

“Bill grew up in Canterbury. went to St Edmund’s School, and we met in Paris in 1985. After travelling in Mexico in 1987, we found inspiration for our new business.

After a basic refit helped by family and friends, Café des Amis opened in April 1988. The first week went well enough, with a gentle stream of curious customers coming to find out what this new place was about serving Mexican food in a restaurant with a French name.  The second weekend, things went crazy. The restaurant filled up quickly and the kitchen went into meltdown. Customers walked out having waited for ever for food to arrive. At this stage, we were doing everything ourselves and realised we were going to need some help pronto. It was also apparent that it was not going to work for long cooking on a domestic cooker without extraction. So after an expensive kitchen refit and taking on some staff, Café des Amis started to find its feet. However, a couple of months after opening, the restaurant closed for a week for the birth of our first baby. Not exactly the best timing!

In 1995, Café des Amis expanded by taking over the Momtaz Indian restaurant next door, which almost doubled the capacity. Over the years, Café des Amis has become the favourite of students, residents, tourists and more than a few celebrities (including Prince Edward). We are mostly pleased that so many wonderful customers appreciate the restaurant we created, that they enjoy our food, and come back so regularly. Our dream guest would be Sir David Attenborough. We’d happily treat him to a free meal in exchange for all the great work he has done.

What would we put in the Canterbury time capsule? 
We would choose to put one of our cast aluminium fajita wheels inside; we had them made by a foundry in Faversham 30 years ago.

What would we say to customers who have not yet visited us? 
ARE there people who have not been to Cafe des Amis?”