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International Friendship Brings French Family Restaurant To San Antonio

Among the historic buildings and shuffle of people and traffic on Broadway near downtown is a modern, chic sign that reads "Saveurs 209." The word is French and the people inside argue that the taste of their food will satisfy the pickiest of food critics.

"Especially in Paris, people are very picky," said restaurateur Sylvain Nykiel. "But in Paris, people know really really food. They are foodies."

Saveurs, said Nykiel, means taste, and 209 is the location of his French restaurant on Broadway. But it's more than a coincidence that he, his daughter Caitline, who is the chef, and his wife ended up 8,000 miles away from home.

"Every customer [who comes] here...[asks] us why we came here or what's a silly French guy [doing] in San Antonio, and especially when we tell them we're from Paris, you know?" he said nonchalantly.

For 20 years Nykiel drove a San Antonio woman when she visited Europe on holiday. Their families got to know each other and each would visit the other in the states and in Paris. Finally, when it came time for Nykiel to decide what to do with the rest of his life, it was the close bond and connection he formed with his American friend that made him decide to leave his job as a driver and open a restaurant in San Antonio.

"She changed our life," he said. "It was on Bastille Day, you know it was a revolution and it's, make a revolution in our life, you know?"

Inside the cozy restaurant, patrons will find a long row of tables with a continuous booth seat on one side and chairs on the other. The restaurant features colorful fabric on the back of the booth seating, red translucent chairs, hardwood floors, a curvy white bar, and low-hanging ball shaped light fixtures.

It's all reminiscent of home for Nykiel.

"We found that this location was great because it looked like very much French place, you know it was a wood floor, a high ceiling," he said.

The Parisian man said he visited more than 40 restaurants as possibilities to convert or transform. But nothing compared to having his own restaurant, and that way he could do things the way he wanted.

Caitline, 25, has given up a lot to be the chef at her parents' restaurant. Nykiel acknowledged that she is missing out on a social life and is far from her friends back home, but said he appreciated her sacrifices.

"I miss Paris," Caitline said. "It's not easy everyday but I take a good part here so it makes me happy to be here, but sometimes Paris is far away."

The family will soon be able to offer another option for bakery items in the downtown area when they open up a shop next door to the restaurant. Nykiel's other daughter, Carla, is a design student in Europe and, like the restaurant, is coming up with a scheme and feel for the bakery.

"We will have a nice coffee shop with a French, we try to do a French place you can have some food for you at night," he said. "Don't need to take your car to go to Central Market, HEB, very far."

There is no name for the bakery yet - maybe La Boulangerie, said Nykiel. The family hopes to open it in March. For San Antonio, the restaurant is another element of growth in the downtown area. For the Nykiels, the venture is hard work. But just like the San Antonio woman who connected them to her city, they're finding their new home to be familiar, friendly and welcoming.

"We will make it because we fight so much and you know, we have to make it anyway," said Nykiel.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.