Written by: Caleb Wiegandt and Julianna Reichenbach
Opened in 2018, The Chicago Factory restaurant serves Paris’ Bercy area with authentic American cuisine.
It’s been a quarter-century since the Bulls last played in Paris, but the seeds sown by His Airness still bear fruit in 2023
On January 19, Paris native Alan Sinniah arrived at Accor Arena donning a Bulls jacket and T-shirt.
The 38-year-old holds a special edge a young NBA fan can only crave: coming of age when Chicago’s favorite son owned the Association.
He remembers the last time the Bulls came to France when a certain six-time NBA champ famously rocked an assortment of berets en route to carving up Europe’s finest competition.
“I was probably 10 years old, but that’s how we all started to love the Chicago Bulls,” Sinniah said. “Thanks to Michael Jordan.”
Windy City pro hoops’ return to the city of love was long-awaited, but even after 25 years away, capped by a pandemic, the grassroots have held strong for one of the league’s premier brands–the Bulls–and its premier legend–Jordan.
Amid Paris Fashion Week and Les Soldes, France’s state-designated retail sales period, the Bulls and the Pistons brought a decades-old rivalry to center stage once again, with Chicago pulling out a 126-108 win behind big nights from the backcourt of Zach Lavine and DeMar DeRozan.
The excitement in the city was imminent, but like the best French wines, Chicago’s hoops’ footprint has been fermenting since the last time the Bulls were in Paris.
The 1997-98 Bulls came to the preseason McDonald’s Championship under the same roof as this year’s squad with too much fanfare, rolling to the tournament title and, the next summer, their fabled sixth NBA title.
L’Equipe, Paris’ staple sports daily paper, called Michael Jordan a “king” when the Bulls came to Paris in October 1997.
What is now Accor Arena became a basketball altar to Jordan for three days. L’Equipe, France’s staple daily sports paper, likened Mike to the Pope on the front page at the time.
Basketball diplomacy is never-ending, but outside of the United States, France looks to be a world leader in keeping up.
Look no further than the Chicago Factory restaurant, just one block away from Accor Arena.
Serving Paris’ Bercy area a taste of the Windy City since 2018, the quick-service restaurant could call Lake Michigan home just as easily as the Seine.
Take a look at the restaurant’s logo. It’s easy to see the inspiration.
The Chicago Factory’s logo is nearly identical to that of the Bulls franchise.
Conveniently located down the street from the Bercy metro station, the 14-hectare gardens of Parc de Bercy, and a cluster of shops and restaurants, one can imagine the bustle in a week where division rivals cross the pond.
The menu is authentically American with plentiful combinations of burgers, sandwiches, and chicken products, including the Chicago Giant, essentially a double cheeseburger with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and onion.
Jordan’s face appears on the wall in a framed May 1992 “Sports Illustrated Kids” cover, and his number 23 jersey is printed on the back wall alongside those of Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Derrick Rose.
But no symbol stands out like the trademark Jumpman, both in logo and picture form. The weight it holds in Paris is obvious, even 25 years after Jordan last suited up in the city.
While Paris native Christian Belogi prefers soccer, he knows about Jordan.
“I love Michael Jordan,” he said. “He’s a great player.”
Belogi frequents Chicago Factory a few days a week as one of its go-to regulars. He’s warmly greeted by staff as he walks into the small establishment and salutes with a smile and a fist bump on his way out.
He admires the kindness of the Chicago Factory team, describing head chef Ahmed Enan as “a wonderful man.”
Enan debuted in Chicago Factory’s kitchen with the restaurant’s opening five years ago. Cooking from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, he said the small staff size there gives it a family feel.
He and his staff worked together to prepare for game day by scheduling more employees and strategizing ahead of time.
“One thousand customers, two thousand customers, it’s no problem for us,” Enan said. “We’re prepared for them.”
Although burgers, wings, chicken nuggets, and mozzarella sticks aren’t his natural culinary forte, the Parisian chef is proud of the authenticity of the cuisine he’s cooked up, thousands of miles away from its origin.
“People say in reviews that our food tastes American,” Enan said.
Though he enjoys basketball, he doesn’t have much time to watch the NBA outside of cooking and family time. None of his friends are very into the league, either.
Still, he could spot MJ in a flash when pointed to. That’s a customer’s favorite poster.
Just down the street, Lowell Watin made his way to the marquee matchup with legends on his mind.
He fondly recalls when Kobe Bryant made several visits to Watin’s native Philippines in the early 2000s. Watin, now 30, started playing basketball around age 10. He just moved to Paris a year and a half ago, bringing love for the league with him.
He’s not a Lakers fan, though. He made it very clear that Jordan is his favorite and the true G.O.A.T., not LeBron James.
Growing up during the globalization era, he and Sinniah have lived out a dream. Gen Z never had the opportunity to watch MJ’s legacy and the Bulls dynasty unfold in real time.
Watin loves wearing Air Jordans. And nowadays, he’s got a routine. A daily NBA recap on YouTube does the trick for his basketball fix.
Beyond a Bulls win, there’s good news for Watin, Sinniah, and the Chicago Factory’s business: The NBA will return to Paris in 2024.
It’s clear that the NBA’s love affair with the City of Love will burn bright long after this year’s NBA Paris Game.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and French President Emmanuel Macron struck a deal on a plan to elevate basketball opportunities in both France and Africa, solidifying concerted efforts to continue globalizing across continents.
Credit: Caleb Wiegandt
Perhaps not next year, but someday, the Bulls will again take over Paris.
But if you look close enough, one can see the reminders that they’ll never truly leave.
Featured Image: Caleb Wiegandt