Georges Jacob and his family moved to the United States when he was almost 19 years old. While his father was working at the Chevy Chase Club, he met a man who was eager to help him open a butcher shop. In 1958 Georges’ father and four sons opened their French Market, which included not only a butcher shop but a wide array of French provisions. The location in three adjoining townhouses at 1628, 1630, and 1632 Wisconsin Avenue (painted in “bleu, blanc, rouge”) became a huge success. It was famous for gorgeous cuts of meat and Georges’ father’s ability to help local women impress their party guests with a magnificent menu. In his interview with Catherine Habanananda, Georges recalls Jacqueline Kennedy visiting the store with her mother and the strong French influence in upper Georgetown at the time. Georges, the only surviving brother, describes the popular market that many Georgetowners remember with great affection.
Catherine: Bonjour Monsieur Jacob.
Georges: Bonjour Madame.
Catherine: We are the fifteenth of May in Poolesville Maryland where Mr. Jacob is living now. My name is Catherine Habanananda. I am the interviewer today and we are going to talk about Mr. Jacob’s life in Georgetown. He was one of the members of this big family who owned and founded the French Market. So Mr. Jacob, would you like to tell us who you are, when you were born, where, how you came to Georgetown? Please.
Georges: I was born in Germany. My parents were attached with the French army. And my two brothers and I were born in Germany, Mainz, Germany. We stayed there until the Germans kicked us out in 1929 and then my father opened up a shop in France near Auxerre for a while. And after a while, my mother came from North Africa, we moved to Algeria. Her sister had moved back to Algeria so she decided we should move back and join them. They were two sisters married to two brothers. So we all went to North Africa, to Algeria, in Oran for a while, and we established a business there. And we stay there for about 15 years.
Catherine: So from when to when?
Georges: From 19, I would say 1930-31, until 1945
Catherine: When I was born.
Georges: And from there we went back in 1945, my father needed to go back to France. So we went back to Lorraine, in a small town called Albertville. And we stayed there for about two years. But yet, you know, it was right at the war so it was hard to get back into business, to find a position, or even to find even a place to stay. But we had a brother, my oldest brother, who had been drafted in North Africa.
Catherine: Can you tell me how many brothers you had at the time?
Georges: We were four brothers.
Catherine: Four brothers.
Georges: Yes, Henri, Robert, Georges, and Jean (Jeannot). So Henri had been drafted by the French army after the liberation for North Africa and he was sent to the United States to become a pilot. And while trying to get his wings, the couple of hours he had yet to fly. His plane, his plane just stopped flying and he had to make a false landing.
Catherine: And where was that?
Georges: It was down in the south. You know, there were groups of places in the south of the United States and they would train pilots, you know French pilots and the United Nations. And there, like I said, he had this false landing and he lost the sight of one eye. So they transferred him from active duty and sent him to Washington to get the military reserve in the Air Force.
Catherine: At the pentagon?
Georges: At the French embassy, you know the military legation. And they guaranteed him until the end of the war and he asked to be discharged and he stayed here. Meanwhile we had gone back to France and of course he realized our situation was very limited, you know that we couldn’t progress. So he made the arrangement for us to come to the United States. So it took us 2 years with papers and everything.
Catherine: You were teenagers or were you grown?
Georges: Yes, when I came to the United States I was almost 19, my brother Robert was, lets see, he was almost 20. And Jeannot was only 15. So we came to Washington and two days after I got there my brother got me a job working at a store. I couldn’t speak English. But we progressed. From there, my father came. And we got together. He came two months after we did because finding passages on a boat was very difficult at this time. So Robert and I first came and then my mother, father, and Jeannot came last in December. So everybody worked, we had to fight to make a living. But my father was very eager to get back into business. So he met some people working in a big hotel, no it was a club, the Chevy Chase club.
Catherine: And you father was a butcher?
Georges: Yes. He met a gentleman who was eager to help him, to open a shop. So there was the place called the Western Market on 21st and K.
Catherine: Mhmm. So you started there.
Georges: He opened a small shop. It was just one booth. We have a picture of that somewhere. That’s not it, that’s not the one.
Georges: Maybe we can bring out the picture. We open the 14th of July, 1948.
Catherine: The 14th of July, you could not find a better day.
Georges: And my father told me “Ok, now you’re going to become a butcher.” Because by then I was working on construction and also in stuff.
Catherine: And he would train you.
Georges: Oh yes, he would train me the hard way. My father was a hard man. Anyway, we opened this shop and we did well. Slowly, you know. We started making these pates, sausages, and people came! And we were unique, you know, in the French cut. My father was a tremendous French butcher. At that time people had steak cut with bones. We took all the bones out, we made a beautiful fillet.
Catherine: You had a reputation for that. For years and years.
Georges: Exactly, yeah. And that brought in all the French customers, and of course also the Italian, and all the European. And we were close to, you know, to the IMF.
Catherine: The IMF, yes.
Georges: And of course all the Embassies. They started coming because they could find meat that they, you know, used to make the proper food for their guests and everything. So everything worked perfectly.
So slowly, slowly, things took more. So we went one case and then we added another case. But unfortunately by then, the government drafted me. I had to go to, we had started the Korean War. So I had to leave. But my brother Jean who was by then he was then probably about 17, 18, took over. So my father had human force with him with his children so Jean took over. And he worked with him until my father died and then he continued the business.
So I went to, like I said for 2 years, but I decided then that I didn’t want to be a butcher, so I wanted to go to school.
Catherine: Ah, you were the rebellious.
Georges: Yes, so I went to Georgetown University and graduated in 1957 and hoping to pursue my dream you know, into foreign service or something in that field. Unfortunately when I was ready to take the exam I realized before you could take an exam you had to have 10 years of citizenship by then I only had 5. So that really was a blow to my spirit.
Catherine: Yeah, I can imagine.
Georges: By then, my brothers were doing very well and they were opening the Georgetown store. And he said, “Come on you’re a Jacob, you should stick with us and surely you’ll be doing well, whatever you went to school and everything. I’m sure it was something that you’ll never forget. But you have to come.” I said ok I’m going to try for a while. She (Georges’ wife) didn’t like it.
Inside the French Market
with Jean and Georges
Georges: Anyway you know I went with them and it was a career. At that time we had the 21st and K stores. And my brothers were opening in ‘58 the 1st store in Georgetown. That was 1628 Wisconsin Avenue. And my mother and my brother Robert were handling that store. That was the first one. By then, about a year and a half after that Jean decided to come and join my brother because they could rent a second store, that was 1630.
Catherine: So you were operating two stores.
Georges: Right the first one was 1628 and then they opened 1930, no 1830, no 1630. We stayed there about year and a half two years. And two years after that I came in and we opened 1632. So we had 1632, 30, and 28. And, we were renting. But then we offered to buy.
Catherine: So three houses then? You got them.
Georges: Yes. This is 1628. 1630. 1632.
Catherine: Yes I see them. Here I see the blue one. 1632. The white one 38, 30, sorry. And 28 the red one. So we have the blue, white, and red which was so distinctive. Did you think of these three colors right away?
Georges: Yes, oh when we had this one first but we didn’t put the paint. But when we got this one we decided to wait a while. Then when we said now it’s time to put bleu, blanc, rouge. And that was the striking color of Georgetown.
Catherine: And I remember your entrance on the side of the white one. Of the red.
Georges: Yes right here. And you could come out over here.
Catherine: And you also had the entrance in the back.
Georges: Oh yes in the back. And the small parking right here. And like I say from there on it was like 1958, 1960 that it started picking up very good. And of course with the Kennedys coming in.
Catherine: Yes, tell us about the famous people.
Georges: Well, you know Mrs. Kennedy and her mother, ummm. Her husband, what was his name? Mrs. Kennedy’s husband. I forgot his name.
Catherine: Jack? Joe?
Georges: No, no. She was American. But she married first.
Catherine: Oh yes. She was a Bouvier.
Georges: Bouvier, yes. But she was an Auchincloss. It was her second marriage because after her father died.
Catherine: I didn’t know that.
Georges: Auchincloss was a very well known gentleman. She was a customer of mine and that’s why she suggested that Jacqueline would come and talk to my father about his production and everything that was done in the market.
Catherine: Were they demanding people? Demanding customers? To make it one way? Or they trusted your father?
Georges: Well you mean my customer? Well my father, you know, people would come and they would tell him what they wanted to do. And he knew exactly the piece of meat he needed to use, how to cook it, the vegetables to put with it, the sauce to make it, and exactly to the point where people would be amazed. That after coming back they would say “Mr. Jacob it was a masterpiece!” And it’s true, that’s the way my father was.
My brother, Jean, and I, we followed tradition. My brother Robert, he was the lover in the family. He would be the one looking after the ladies and everything, smiling at them, telling them that they all were movie stars.
Catherine: A typical Frenchman!
Georges: That’s the way, the first time Mrs. Kennedy came to the store. Robert was flirting with her and I said Robert be careful, I mean, this is Mrs. Kenendy. But anyway after she got married with Mr. Kennedy she used to live down on 31st Street and N so I used to go and deliver the food on my way home. And I would deliver the food to her and she would come with little what’s her name, Caroline, and we would talk and everything. She was very friendly. She loved to speak French. She spoke very good French. Anyway, this is part of memory that will never leave me, something that I cherish.
So this is with the French Market, the French influence, a lot of French stores opened.
Catherine: You started a trend.
Georges: Small restaurants. Maison des Crépes, Au Pied de Cochon, Whisky a Gogo, la Place Vendôme, there was a big French influence then. So that boosted our image all those stores.
Catherine: And your business. The meat was excellent, the service was excellent.
Georges: And the embassy would come to us, all the statesmen would come. Kissinger. And I forget many of them. The diplomats would come to the store. Anyway, a lot of these people.
Catherine: You met a lot of people who were living in Georgetown or were not even living there.
Georges: No but like I said as a family we had to find something more…so we lived in McLean. I mean I travelled to Georgetown from 1948 until 1995.
Catherine: At the very end you were there. I remember having seen you.
Georges: Like I said, Georgetown was a home. We spent more time in Georgetown than we did at home.
Catherine: Yes, and you knew so many people. I have one name of a person who perhaps you have seen there, Nina Black?
Georges: Yes of course, oh yes I knew her well.
Catherine: This is wonderful! Believe it or not I have an adorable coach who is Nina Black her daughter and when I said when I was doing my weights…
Georges: You know I went to the White House once, invited during the Reagan era. And Nina she was…
Catherine: She was a character!
Georges: Oh yes.
Catherine: Very beautiful woman.
Georges: Oh, I know.
Catherine: She died maybe 6, 7 years ago. She was full of life.
Georges: She was a wonderful person.
Catherine: I’ll have to go back to my own Nina Black and tell her that you remember her. That’s wonderful.
Catherine: Emotions come with the memories!
Tell us about this meat business? What is so special about the French way of cutting meat? Compared to the American way of cutting meat. I will tell you my own tiny little anecdote first. When I arrived here with the IMF there was a group of women, of wives, helping one another. I was given three charts of how the meat is cut in England, in America, and in France. And then do what you can with that. Cope with it and try to re-cut……for your own purposes. And then I went to the French Market and I didn’t have to bother with anything.
Georges: Well as you can see, this is a lamb part which is a shoulder of lamb that has been boned, trimmed, and seasoned on the inside. So you cook it like a roast and slice it, it’s beautiful. It has a nice appearance.
Georges: Yes, this is lamb shoulder. And this is rack of lamb, you know, they are lamb chops together. And you cook these.
Catherine: And you chop off a number of things…
Georges: It has the bones of the bottom so you can slice in between. Most of the people would stuff it with the meat stuffing or bread stuffing.
Catherine: And you’d prepare some stuffing.
Georges: But what we did besides this was actually the veal, it was one of the most important part of our business because veal is not well known in the United States. And people did not know what to do with it. So we would prepare the veal scaloppini for Italians. We’d prepare what we call the veal ambassadeur.
Catherine: Oo, tell me what it is.
Georges: Which is a long piece of veal and we’d have the middle and stuff the center of the veal with truffle and then we’d lace it ham on both side. So when you cut the slices you’d have the black thing and the pink thing. Beautiful.
And we would have, we would make all different kind of things. We would make veal birds, you remember paupiettes?
Georges: And, like I said, we would create.
Catherine: And you invented.
Georges: Yes, people would buy this and create a new assortment of, to offer their guests.
Catherine: Yes and it would be very, very easy to serve.
Georges: Exactly. And like I told you, everything that we sold we made sure the customer knew exactly what to do with it. Not to overcook it, to prepare the right sauce.
Catherine: So you trained a number of families, I can imagine.
Georges: Even my daughter, the other day or two days ago, she said “I need to cook this piece of meat.” I said, “what’s the size, what is it?” And she still cannot cook without calling me!
Catherine: I think after I do the interview I will come here for a course! In meat cooking!
Georges: What we did for many a time was preparing the whole tenderloin. My father was a master for this. Because not only would he trim it but we could lace it withfilet piqué. You have little piece of pork fat that you would lace like this all over. And it’d stick like this. It looked beautiful, even more beautiful before you cook it than after. But it allows the fat to penetrate inside the fillet to keep it moist so it becomes very tender.
And then we would prepare what we called the tournedos … oh I forget the name, anyways. We would take the fillet and we would cut the center of it, I mean we would open the center, then we’d prepare a special butter, almost like the butter you used for the snails, you know the special garnish my father would make it with almond flour. Just to give that nutty taste. So we would fill this thing like this, with a small part like this, and you’d cook it and you allow the butter to penetrate…
Catherine: Oh that is gourmet food! How did you leave the Christmas season? You must have been awfully busy, awfully busy.
Georges: Oh yes, it took about 3 days to get ready and we would start at 2 o’clock in the morning and work until probably about 9 or 10 o’clock at night. We only had enough time to get home, drink a good glass of wine and fall asleep!
Catherine: I’m thinking of the Neam’s market, did he exist at the time when you were …?
Georges: Oh yes, yes very much so.
Catherine: Was there any competition?
Georges: Well there was a little bit because he had to establish himself because he had been there before. So a lot of the households had cooks and things like this and they would go over there and they had their own charge account. And they would prepare things. And eventually we did get some. They would come to us for something very special. But they would continue, you know, being with them for the other things. Because he had delivery, so we did, but he had a very good delivery system.
Catherine: Well, that was an adventure.
Georges: It was an adventure.
Catherine: And when did it ever end?
Georges: Well, like I told you before, Georgetown changed in the 90s it started to change. There was a lot of crimes, parking became difficult, and competition. By the Dean and Deluca had opened and Sutton Place Gourmet had opened and the market had opened, their international food that had a special butcher shop in the …. Supermarkets.
Catherine: The Safeway changed enormously.
Georges: Yes, you could find the cuts. So the competition did it, and taxes, and everything, it became difficult. So it was time for us to move on.
Catherine: Are all of your brothers retired?
Georges: Unfortunately I lost two of my brothers. Jeannot and Henri. But of course even though Henri was not part of us he was like a father, the one helping us making decision, helping us on the weekend, from the beginning. So to us he was a big loss also. But Jeannot was the biggest loss of all, for me he was a very big loss.
Catherine: You were close, yes.
Georges: But we had a good life together, we enjoyed, we spent time, when the kids were small we always got together.
Catherine: Let us hear about, a little about kids, the family, the children. You have nine grandchildren you told me?
Georges: Nine grandchildren, yes.
Catherine: How did it come out?
Georges: I tell you we are a very close family, nine grandchildren. We try to get the family to come as close as we can. And thanks to my daughter who has a big house, we can gather the whole Jacob clan. And it’s always really happy, very happy occasion when we can get together. So all of my nephews and nieces, you know they try to come whenever we get together.
Catherine: Are all of them in the Washington area?
Lilia (Georges’ Wife): For the most part we are.
Catherine: After having lived in McLean you have shifted to Maryland thanks to you (Georges daughter).
Georges: She is a magnet.
Catherine: Tell me your first name again?
Georges’ Daughter: It’s Gabrielle.
Catherine: Gabrielle, Gabrielle dragged her father. In Maryland…Poolesville. So how many children?
Gabrielle: I have 4 children, myself. That’s the most. And then one brother has 2, another brother has 2, and one has one.
Catherine: Oh ok, and that’s a lot. And you have them all together? From time to time?
Georges: We try, we try.
Gabrielle: Every opportunity we get everybody together we bring them.
Catherine: And do you bring them to Georgetown? From time to time? Or not so much?
Gabrielle: Not so much, although because of Cathrina we were down in Georgetown a few weeks ago, two weeks ago? And went to the Georgetown French Market which was an annual event in which we had a blast at.
Catherine: I don’t know who started that idea to call it the French Market…
Georges: I think the, you know the pastry shop? Patisserie Poupon? I spoke to the wife a long time and I am anxious to go and talk to him because I think I know him from another, I think he had a restaurant somewhere. And I visited him.
Georges: You know the fact that we lived in North Africa, my father could make sausages especially the merguez.
Catherine: Aw, we didn’t speak about those?
Georges: Well we can do it now! Never too late. That reminds me because when we went to Poupon they were making merguez but their merguez are not as good as my merguez or our sausages.
In front of the Market,
Jean with a tray of famous sausage
Catherine: Yes, because yours were the real ones.
Catherine: Those recipes are going to be lost eventually. You have to put them in a book or something.
Georges: Well, maybe we’ll find one of our nephews. Actually Jeannot’s son makes a great pate, we make merguez, chipolatas, and soucisses de Toulouse. But Mr. Poupon’s baguettes are wonderful. But there was a lot of North Africans in Washington in the city. So there we are.
Catherine: All your children went to American schools?
Georges: Well, yes, she has three no two that graduated. And one that is going to college and the other is studying or just finished this year high school here. And on the other side, my older son has a daughter that graduated from UVA, she is a nurse, and a son that graduated a couple of years ago from Virginia Tech. And let’s see on the other side we have my younger son his daughter graduated from Madison and her sister is now in Madison for the first year. And …
Catherine: My goodness that’s certainly settling well here. And some have jobs?
Georges: They are all doing well. Well we… I think I have been blessed with the Lord to have such a wonderful family who are very successful and beautiful and healthy and I love it.
Catherine: So we were saying maybe there should be multiple interviews on this side of the family we can think of cooking food or we can have a little follow up eventually to speak of different things. So just think about it.
Georges: We have a big cook over there, she is a master cook!
Catherine: I need to learn from you!
Georges: Did she tell you how she met her husband? She never did?
Elizabeth: It’s a long story….
Gabrielle: Come to the microphone.
Catherine: Please, have a seat here. And tell me your name again, please?
Elizabeth: And I was married to Jean. And I was taking a French cooking class and whenever I needed something they would say “Well you can get that at the French Market.” So I had to go to Georgetown to find this French Market where I could get everything that I needed for my cooking class. So I went in there and the first time I asked Jean if he had blood for blood sausage. And they said yes. And then the next time they had opened the Northport Avenue store in Chevy Chase and I went to ask them for calf’s brain ___. And he said well he didn’t have any today but he should have some next week and if I could give him my phone number he will a call me. And id didn’t realize he was just tricking me to get my phone number.
Elizabeth: And low and behold the phone rang at the South African embassy and it was Jean for the brains. And I said “Oh, I have forgotten about the brains that I was supposed to get.” And he said “Well I have them!” And I said “You have them? Well you should bring them over because I don’t know how to cook them. Do you know how to cook them?” He said “Yes I do” and I said “Well you should come with the brains!”
Catherine: And that started a whole love story?
Elizabeth: Yes, it was just like that. And there we was. I opened the door and he was standing there with his little jacket over his arm and his beautiful brown shirt and his hair all combed and bringing it out from behind his back he dug out baby potatoes from the farm to serve it with. And he had the chopped garlic and parsley. And fortunately I had my friend there who was French too and she could speak French to him. And I thought, oh well maybe they will get together or something. Well later on she went to sleep and it was me who got together with him.
Elizabeth: It was love at first sight.
Catherine: And you are from…
Elizabeth: South Africa. And we have a sausage that they made at the French Market. Called Boerewors.
Georges: That’s right.
Elizabeth: South African sausage that they made.
Catherine: how do you write this?
Elizabeth: B-o-e-r-e-w-o-r-s. Boerewors. And in the newspaper in South Africa they made this joke “For better or for wors.”
Georges: That’s right, and we had a big customer, you know, lots of customers from South Africa. Also from the IMF because they were you know, and they knew that. They would come round the Christmas holiday and we had to make so many pounds of that.
Catherine: Well thank you so very much. This was absolutely wonderful. From you, Georges and from you Elizabeth. And I don’t remember your name.
Lilia: L-i-l-i-a. Lilia.
Elizabeth: She worked many years at the French Market. Many many years.
Catherine: I will remember your cheese lady.
Georges: Madame Collin. Madame Collin was for a while.
Catherine: And her husband was my contractor at the time.
Georges: You know Madame Collin.
Catherine: I didn’t know her personally. I knew her husband. I saw her at the shop once or twice.
Georges: Let me tell you a story. She left, she went back to France. This was probably about 15 years or so ago. I was walking last year at the Poolesville thing. I was walking and I saw somebody and I say “Bonjour” because I recognize the face. And then I turn around and say “no, that’s impossible.” So I turn around and say “Excuse moi, Madame Collin?” “Monsieur Jacob!”
Georges: That many years ago. Her son and his wife live in Poolesville.
Catherine: They are back from France…but I think they are back in France, no?
Georges: No, no they went back to France for a little while but she came to visit her sister. All of them work in Poolesville.
Catherine: Mr. Jacob, some wonderful stories. Thank you so much and maybe if you think of something else. You are so full of stories.
Georges: You will give a call, whatever you think you need more. Whenever you put everything together.