Women everywhere long to look as chicly fashionable as French women. A kiss atop the Eiffel tower is nearly de rigueur for romantics at heart. The wines of France are sublime, the croissants delicious, the brie binge-worthy. The countryside remains a bucolic canvas while the cities are a tourism tour de force.
It’s no wonder most places in the United States have French envy, at least un peu.
Except one that is. Fond du Lac, French for “bottom of the lake,” is a small, central Wisconsin city that sits on the far southern shore of Lake Winnebago. It originated in 1785 as a French trading post. While the town’s French moniker has a certain cachet, especially to newcomers – “I’m moving to Fond du Lac, a village that hugs the shore of a scenic lake” – the truth is the town is not French. Some city officials worry the confusion may actually be working against them.
“The name is lovely, it rolls off the tongue, yet we don’t want people who are considering relocating here to shy away because they think we veer snobbish or expensive,” explained Melissa Worthington, vice president of the city’s chamber of commerce. “With lots of jobs to fill at all levels of business and commerce here, we knew we had to clear up any confusion.”
So Worthington and her staff set out to set the record straight.
“We have attributes people typically don’t associate with France,” she opined. “We’re affordable, our residents are without pretense, and the city is easy to navigate.”
On the flip side, she did note that the community respects the microbrewery culture of Wisconsin the way the French respect their place in the wine world, and that there is a shared affinity for cheese.
“Our artisan cheese makers can go toe-to-toe with the French any day,” said Worthington with an intended throw-down tone to her reply. Within a 30 mile radius of the city center you’ll find Grande and Sartori, cheese makers with family histories that tether to Italy, and Baker Cheese, pioneer of American string cheese. Then there’s LaClare Farms, producing world champion goat cheese and, yes, the name is indeed French, although they’re the exception to the rule.
A quick tour of the town turns up some other interesting French connections. The stained glass panels produced by the artists at Old World Art Glass grace many an American church and are fine enough for a French cathedral. The fashions at Savvy Boutique come packaged with a heaping dose of savoir-faire. The dance study Shut Up and Dance is more ballroom than French ballet but pirouettes are allowed. The 90-mile Race the Lake course around Lake Winnebago shows similarities to the Tour de France. While not exactly a postcard of the French Riviera, the sight of sailboats skimming the surface of Lake Winnebago is nonetheless a very pretty visual. The custom-made engagement rings from The Goldsmith are worthy of a proposal in Paris. The Fond du Lac counterpart to an exclusive French patisserie is Bob and Bonnie’s where the public is only allowed in to purchase hot donuts on Thursday mornings from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Cujak’s wine market stocks upwards of 150 different labels, with five percent of those from French vintners. Local company ACH Foam Technologies makes the foam wine shippers that ensure your favorite Cabernet arrives intact on your doorstep.
“For anyone considering relocating here for a career move, we want them to know we’re the best of both worlds,” said Worthington. “Not exactly French, in a good way, yet elements that mirror French culture that are very appealing.” Très bien.