An interview with a neighbor: Marchet Sparks

Kirkwood taught Marchet Sparks how to do business the right ways at her quaint cafe Le Petit Marche

Marchet Sparks, 40, moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2007 to be closer to her parents and to live her dream of opening her own business. Inspired by a trip to France in 2004, Sparks envisioned a Star Provisions-like market and café in the eastside Atlanta neighborhood. Le Petit Marché had trouble gaining traction at first due to the combination of a tanking economy and the shop’s high-end inventory. But Sparks listened to her customers’ needs and now business is booming — enough so that the café is expanding to more spacious digs across the street this summer.

The initial seed for Le Petit Marché was planted back in 2004 on my first trip to France. I’ve always loved food, always loved being in the kitchen setting, worked in various restaurants, this and that, back when I was younger. I decided back then that if I ever got the chance, I would love to start a little market. The initial idea for the market was just to have a few perishables and floral and breads and cheeses. I had three tables in here, just three. No tables outside, and my little sandwich counter. That was the original concept. It would completely change because the economy tanked.

I’m good about going with the flow because the whole ultimate goal is to have a successful business, but I certainly did not imagine things the way they are now. You know, the economy at the time wasn’t needing what I was offering. Kirkwood is a working-class community and it just wasn’t ready for a Star Provisions-type of establishment in the neighborhood and that’s what this was in the beginning. So, I had to listen to what was being said either by what was being purchased or not, or what was being verbally said. And what was being verbally said was Kirkwood really wants an eatery. They really loved my sandwiches. And they really wanted a breakfast sandwich. And after about the 50th or 60th person who asked me for a breakfast sandwich over the course of about 10 or 11 months — and I was not doing well, the business was struggling really badly — I gave them breakfast. That’s just where things took off and I had no idea it was gonna be this way, but it is and I’m thankful for it.

Kirkwood was an easy choice for me. Here we had this blossoming community. I saw great potential in Kirkwood. We’ve got a fire department, we’ve got a police department, we’ve got a post office, a library, a great park, a couple of great schools, but the retail downtown area hadn’t quite blossomed yet. And I could see that happening and I wanted to get in on that while I could. I wanted to get in on it and grow along with the community. And that’s exactly what happened.

I’m really impressed with Kirkwood and its ability to feel like a small town and act as though it’s a small town inside of this big community or this big city of Atlanta. People are committed here to each other, to the business, to all the civic activities that go on and affect the community. People are really responsive, responsible, and they are active participants. Coming from L.A., this really big detached place where everyone just kind of fends for themselves, I am completely in love with the idea of people looking out for each other and really coming together and caring as community. That’s what I see Kirkwood as doing. It’s just got a very active neighborhood organization. You’ve got a very active PTA. There’s all kinds of changes taking place or involvement taking place to improve the schools here locally, and I can appreciate that. I can appreciate going into our coffee shop and seeing seven or eight people just hanging out and they know each other and they know me. It’s like this interwoven family.

I could not do this in L.A. I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford the rent. Nothing about L.A. is saying, “Hey, start your business here, we’re full of opportunities.” I feel like Atlanta is full of opportunities.