From the food to the music and overall atmosphere, The Belle Époque Cafe, located at 1141 Frederick Ave., certainly feels unique.
The Belle Époque was an era characterized by great prosperity as well as advancements in art and architecture between the 1890s and 1920s. According to Olin Cox, the owner of The Belle Époque Cafe, which opened last June, there’s a reason why many of these restaurant and cafe designs weren’t prevalent in America.
“It didn’t really make it over the pond, so it never made it to the United States,” he says. “We kind of went straight from a craftsman-type period to an art-deco period. So people are very familiar with deco, but they're not necessarily familiar with Art Nouveau, which was sort of symbolic architecture that went hand in hand with the Belle Époque.”
Cox worked with Delta Airlines for 11 years and spent a lot of his time in Europe and Asia. While he currently owns the Whiskey Mansion and ran a cafe there for about four years, he was eager to bring that European cafe culture to St. Joseph.
“I wanted to open a European-style cafe, but I didn’t want it to be foreign for St. Joe, so we really embraced a lot of the types of food and a lot of the architecture in St. Joe so that people feel comfortable when they’re here,” he says.
The building in which the cafe is located was built in 1889. It has housed Diamond Pharmacy as well as Al’s Market and currently has lofts on the upper floors.
The cafe itself is filled with era-appropriate lights and posters, coupled with a bar on one side and seating on the other. A mezzanine in the back of the building is used for used for smaller study groups and the like, and while soft, jazzy music plays through the cafe’s speakers, Cox said he has toyed with having a small jazz band play there in the future.
As for the food, Cox says that much of it is driven by what is produced locally.
“I think we’ve really made some headway in coming up with entrees that are very different,” he says. “Our goal here is to take traditional – primarily American – dishes that people in St. Joseph are comfortable with or at least have heard of, and we try to make a twist on it.”
The cafe’s white lasagna is a popular selection, as is its vol-au-vent, a French dish.
Belle Époque also has a wide variety of drinks, from espressos to beer and simple cocktails.
“We have a pretty extensive wine list, and it may be the most extensive in St. Joe,” Cox says.
The Belle Époque Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.