Convivial transforms to L’Experience Paris, a French cafe

December 13, 2019 | by Erin Sirianni

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Say bonjour to L’Experience Paris. This authentically French cafe has replaced Convivial Cafe, and it’s a transformation that will transport you to Paris with exquisite patisserie, coffee, tea, wine, and fine fare.

The transformation has been gradual over the course of a few months, though the ownership changed over the summer. In July 2019 – just about a year after its opening – Convivial Cafe shared an announcement on Facebook that it would be joining the Cépaé group, owned and led by Julien Hervet. The post also indicated that Convivial Cafe owner Joel Wachs would join the group, and he now assists L’Experience with community outreach and events.

The Cépaé group currently consists of two Parisienne-inspired establishments – Cépaé, a wine bar and French bistro in Bellevue, and L’Experience Paris on Mercer Island.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Julien Hervet, who shared that Convivial provided a good foundation for his French cafe – a concept which he said doesn’t really exist in the United States. Through L’Experience Paris, he hopes to “deliver the most authentic French experience you can find.”

Toward that end, L’Experience Paris is a place where you can go for your coffee and croissant in the morning and a glass of wine and charcuterie in the afternoon or early evening. On the weekends, L’Experience serves brunch, including French toast and Eggs Benedict.

Born and raised in France, Hervet previously worked in the technology industry, which included 9 years at Microsoft. His entrepreneurial foray into the wine and restaurant business began as a hobby importing French wine for friends and family members, which evolved into sourcing wines from around the world to a select portfolio of Seattle restaurants and now to operating the Cépaé group. His children attend school at the local French American School of Puget Sound, which brought his attention to the idea of opening a cafe in downtown Mercer Island.

Hervet shared that so far the community’s reception to L’Experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and Convivial’s former regular customers are adjusting to the changes. Previously, Convivial Cafe had open seating similar to a coffee shop. Now, customers are seated and provided table service, unless they are purchasing coffee or pastries to go. The L’Experience team has also made changes to make the interior space more intimate – like painting the south wall a midnight blue.

The menu and patisserie selection at L’Experience is new, created by executive chef Orphée Fouano, a brilliant talent quickly recognized by a sampling of the delightful confections. He also has an impressive resume. Prior to moving to the U.S., Fouano completed his culinary education training in Paris and worked at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris (a 3 Michelin-star restaurant) alongside Christophe Michalak, a French Master Pâtissier and a World Champion of Pâtisserie. Prior to joining Hervet at Cépaé and L’Experience, he was executive chef at Mademoiselle Colette, a pastry shop with three locations throughout Silicon Valley.

L’Experience Paris customers can also find imported French goods at the cafe, including Mariage Frères tea, Alain Milliat juices, condiments, and more. Currently, L’Experience is taking orders for Bûche de Noël, a Yule log cake and traditional Christmas dessert.

I’m thrilled that this jewel of a cafe has landed on Mercer Island. L’Experience Paris is an experience you won’t want to miss. You may even enjoy it so much as to make it an everyday experience.

Visit L’Experience Paris at 3020 78th Avenue SE, Mercer Island, WA, in the Islandia Shopping Center near Island Books, Homegrown, and Terra Bella. Learn more at