On the charming cobblestoned street of Birmingham’s Morris Avenue sits a French-inspired bistro that exudes the energy, elegance, and joie de vivre of Paris.

Delicate rosy blooms hang from the rafters of La Fête’s entrance. Once inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the bar’s wallpaper dotted with countless feathery peonies, bursts of bright pink against a deep blue background. The interior feels like spring—romantic, a bit moody, and very Parisian.

(La Fête/Facebook)

“I carried around a piece of that wallpaper for a year,” says Kristen Hall, the restaurant’s co-owner, pastry chef, and mastermind behind the design. You can quickly tell that the French bistro is deeply personal to Hall, and its concept is a clear reflection of that. “Peonies are a symbol of motherhood—the bittersweet nature of it. It’s painful and beautiful, all at the same time. Once you’re open to the juxtaposition of something, the contradiction, the world opens up. The wallpaper is a reminder of that.”

And Hall is no stranger to the dichotomy of seemingly contradictory roles. She is a mother and businesswoman, pastry chef yet scientist by trade, and an international traveler yet in deep dedication to the Birmingham community. The awareness of her separate, yet coexisting roles has motivated her to challenge lessons on identity that many are accustomed to hearing.

“We are taught that we can only be one ‘thing’ or have one thing,” Hall reflects. “One choice for a city, one choice for career. But giving myself permission to be all of these things has given me lots of peace.”

Hall’s career reflects that principle—that one doesn’t have to be cornered into a single identity. While working full-time at UAB, she began baking with her young daughters, then sneaking packages of baked goods onto friends’ and neighbors’ doorsteps. “Baking Bandits,” as they were named, grew into a thriving baking business after an immensely successful week at a Woodlawn pop-up. After selling out on day one, Hall knew it was the beginning of something special. “The next day, people were lining up to buy from me. People believed in me… and I started to believe in myself.”

(Bandit Patisserie/Facebook)

Then, in the fall of 2014, Hall met Victor King of Bottle and Bone, and the two quickly became business partners. Their shared vision for creating spaces that highlight community and locally sourced fare birthed Birmingham’s exceedingly popular brunch spot, The Essential.

With two thriving businesses, Hall knew that she wasn’t done just yet. She wanted a space that delivered more than a bite of French pastry or a sip of Bordeaux—a space that enraptured, that transported. “I am in the business of transportation,” she says. “I wanted to transport people to Paris–if only for a moment, for a meal.”

The City of Light is profoundly special to Hall, and she sought a way to capture the city’s unique energy and magic, and, like Hall herself, its seeming contradictions.

“I get overtaken by how beautiful Paris is, and how unseriously Parisians take it. There’s a juxtaposition at play—this insanely ornate beauty of the city alongside the relaxation of it, of being a wanderer, of taking one’s time, of breathing in and enjoying the simplest moments. It’s a strange curiosity. The city feels like me.”

(La Fête/Facebook)

Originally, Hall and King opened La Fête on First Avenue North, and quickly began curating a sense of community in the French-inspired space. While her team, which she refers to as her family, set about making a home in their new quarters, her other family at The Essential was quickly outgrowing theirs. “It felt like my family was in a home too small,” she recollects.

Hall and King worked tirelessly to secure a new home for The Essential, and after a deal fell through, she was at a loss for what to do or how to move forward.

Her beloved Paris would reveal to her an answer.

Feeling heartbroken for her business family, Hall sat down to lunch with King at Le Baratin, a quaint bistro in the Belleville district of Paris—homey, comforting, with only a handful of small tables and rickety wooden chairs. There she had what she described as the best lunch of her life—terrine, pea salad, roast chicken with caramelized onion jus, and panna cotta. As they left the bistro, still overwhelmed with emotion, Hall remembers seeing her tears hit the cobblestone street on that Belleville hill.

The cobblestone was her solution. She would move The Essential to the larger space on First Avenue, and switch La Fête to the cobblestoned lane on Morris. To Hall, it had felt like a puzzle that was missing a single piece and, now, the piece was found.

Both restaurants are now in their forever homes.

(La Fete/Facebook)

Morris Avenue is well-suited for Hall’s vision of an authentic and cozy French bistro, where one can get lost in conversation with friends between bites of smoked prosciutto and sips of Riesling. Comforting French fare such as smoked duck confit or a raclette cheeseburger are meant to be enjoyed unhurried with loved ones. Both the food and wine menus change monthly to highlight seasonal produce and to allow visitors to experience something new with each visit.

The co-owners also host a monthly pop-up, The Butcher (King) and the Baker (Hall), where the duo feature a different region of France with each event. The March pop-up will feature tastes of The Loire, and will undoubtedly transport guests to France with each bite.

And Hall isn’t slowing down. With many projects on the horizon, including baking classes and a cut flower garden, she wants to continue instilling French magic into the Magic City.

“La Fête is a gift to the Birmingham community, but it’s also a gift to me,” she says. “Like Paris, we take our work seriously but not ourselves—and the combination is magical.”