Food by VICE

What It Was Like Working in a Paris Restaurant During Last Week's Terrorist Attacks

"We closed the curtains, switched off the lights, and locked the front door."

by Noor Spanjer
Nov 19 2015, 7:00pm

Foto door Etienne Rouillon voor VICE Frankrijk.

My friend Mees List left Amsterdam for Paris a month ago. She had taken a job at a restaurant called Saturne, which is approximately one mile from Le Petit Cambodge, the place where 14 people were shot dead last Friday night.

Mees lives in the tenth arrondissement where multiple attacks were carried out. Luckily, I found out that she was safe the same night. I gave her a call to find out about how people in her restaurant had responded to the news about the attacks and how she had felt on Friday night while waiting tables at the restaurant.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Mees. On Friday night you were at work in a restaurant in Paris. What was the shift like? Mees List: Friday's are always very busy. At some point, I noticed that the chefs and the other kitchen staff kept looking at the laptop we keep in the kitchen corner. I didn't think anything of it at first because I figured they were looking for a recipe or something. There were a lot of tourists in the restaurant that night, and they didn't notice that something was off.

When did you realize that something was going on? More and more people started looking at their phones and computers, but since I don't speak French very well, it took me a while to realize how severe the situation was. Looking back, I don't think my co-workers knew either. They said that "some kind of madman was shooting," but we all continued to work. Saturne has two dining rooms, and at 11 PM, the chef and manager started moving all the customers from the front room, which faces the street, into the back room. We closed the curtains, switched off the lights, and locked the front door. At that point, all of the French-speaking guests had joined together at one table and were talking to each other.

That sounds terrifying. Did you realize that a terrorist attack was taking place? No, but the fact that I couldn't really understand what everyone was saying could have had something to do with that. When I asked one of my co-workers what was going on, he said, "Big problem in Paris, boom boom," so that didn't really tell me much either. My boss was shocked when I told him that I didn't really know what was going on. He tried to find an online news story in English for me, but the internet had stopped working.

Did your co-workers understand that there had been a shooting in a nearby restaurant? Yes, I think so, but to me, it wasn't clear. Meanwhile, the door was still locked? Yes. One of our guests wanted to step outside to smoke a cigarette, but my boss wouldn't let him. He had to either stay or go. A woman at a different table got a call at some point and walked straight out of the restaurant. I think she had gotten word about someone she knew who had been hurt.

How many people were still inside at that point? About 50 people. We kept on working, but the staff who were done with their shifts started pouring themselves large glasses of wine in the kitchen. I think they were really nervous. Everyone, both guests and staff, were constantly looking at their phones.

How did the night end for people at the restaurant? For a long time, it wasn't clear if we were allowed to leave the restaurant and go out into the street. It felt strange, like I was in a war zone. We heard that public transportation had stopped running and that there were no cabs. I also heard someone say that "the borders were closed." Then the streets slowly became busier, and eventually, all the guests left in cabs. Around 2:30 AM, the chef—who I normally never really talk to—arranged for the manager to give me a ride home. When I got home, I finally read the news about the attacks and the hostage situation in Bataclan. I also realized that a lot of people from back home had tried to get in touch with me. All they knew was that I worked in a restaurant in Paris. They don't know exactly where it is.

Thank you, Mees. Glad you are safe.