It is a thing of beauty to walk through the doors of the French bakery, Le Fournil. The aroma of authentic, handmade French bread drifts through the warm air as owner, Francois Morin sets fresh baguettes, brioche and country loaves into wicker baskets. It is nothing you would expect to find in Billings and yet, exactly what you hope to see thrive.

Francois was born and raised in France. When he and wife, Marmee (a Billings native who lived in France for over a decade) moved to Billings in 2016, Francois could not find genuine French-made bread anywhere, and Le Fournil, which translates to “the oven,” was born.

But that’s not where the story ends.

Francois missed more than just authentic French cuisine — he missed the people, conversation and engagement of French life. Little did the Morin’s know, there was a small French community scattered across the Magic City.

“People started coming into the bakery and would speak to us in French” said Marmee. “So, Francois and I began talking about what we wanted to share with the community — it was food and language.”

Soon, and rather organically, the group began to meet at the first Thursday of every month at Le Fournil. While numbers and faces have ebbed and flowed, the result is always joyous. The casual affair includes contributions of French wine, cheese, bread and discussion.

“Most of the time, we only speak in French. We have people who have lived in France; we have advanced adult French language students; we even have people that have traveled to France and want to speak about their experience,” said Marmee.

The group just celebrated a year and the Morins hope to see it grow even larger.

“The best thing we could do is create a community to aim for. External learning communities are vital and often missing from our cultural and artistic scene,” said Marmee. “It’s self-care of Billings to offer culture, diversity and vitality — it would be amazing to tack language onto that.”

With studies showing a decline in secondary languages in the U.S., the Morins hope to expose the value in learning a foreign language, especially Marmee, who teaches French at Senior High School.

Language spreads into the growth of a city’s livelihood; it presents an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture; it creates an avenue for couples and families to do something special and unique, together. It offers sustenance to those directly and indirectly influenced by it. But most importantly, language, like any other art form, provides une bonne vie — “a good life.”

Le Fournil is located at 2805 1st Ave. N., between Rockets Wraps and Big Dipper Ice Cream. For more information call (406) 850-8586, or visit their Facebook page.

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