France-Amérique: Bonzini will soon be celebrating its 100e anniversary. How did it all start?
Ingrid Bergaglia: When it was founded in 1927, the company specialized in industrial joinery and precision mechanics. It made parts for the automotive and aeronautical sectors, as well as games and automatic devices such as the Bussophone, the ancestor of the jukebox. Our first foosball tables appeared in the mid-1930s, when my grandfather Raymond Bergaglia arrived from Nice to help his uncle Joseph Bonzini.
Your most iconic model was launched in the late 1950s, and was later featured in French singer Laurent Voulzy’s hit song “Rockollection,” with the lyrics “At the café in my suburb, you saw Jimmy’s gang/They’re showing off, rocking around the foosball table.” Can you tell us more?
That’s the B60, created by my grandfather. With its natural beech-wood body, four black legs, red handrails, green carpet, and teams in red and blue, it’s the foosball table of our collective imagination. Launched in 1959, it was in 95% of the 200,000 or so cafés in France at the time! But then the café market collapsed – there are only around 40,000 today – and the foosball tables were removed to make room for more customers. The game shifted, and my father created the B90 to accompany this trend. This model has no coin-operated mechanism but the same quality and finish as the B60. It’s very popular with both individuals and local institutions. As a result, you can find it in middle schools, high schools, youth centers, and even hospitals, which were eager to offer their employees something fun during the pandemic
What is your connection to foosball? Are you a die-hard player yourself?
Above all, I’m attached to the object, the culture that surrounds it, and its roots in my family. I used to play quite a lot, but I play less now. However, I do go to the big competitions. It’s interesting to see how foosball is becoming an increasingly important sport, even though it’s not yet officially recognized in France. The French Table Soccer Federation started in 1991, and the International Table Soccer Federation in 2002. At international tournaments, players choose the table they are going to play on from five official models, including one Bonzini, two Italian tables, a German table, and an American table. It’s not unusual for foreign players – whether Danish, German, or American – to choose our brand!
Your former American distributor, Alan Cribbs, was actually a foosball champion.
That’s right! My father met him while he was playing with the U.S. team at the Bonzini World Cup in Nantes in May 1998. Alan Cribbs complained about the quality of the foosball tables available in the United States at the time, and negotiated exclusive distribution rights to import our tables. He sold his business in 2019, and William Mitchell Jr. is now at the helm of Bonzini U.S.A.
Who are your customers in the United States?
There’s less of a soccer culture than in Europe, but we still sell around a hundred foosball tables a year in the United States, compared with around 130 in the U.K., which is our biggest export market. Our American customers are also big fans of French design. Some are looking for an elegant piece of furniture that will last over time, while others are competitive players who appreciate the quality of our tables and the French style of play. Bonzini also sponsors several local tournaments, such as the North Carolina Open and the Virginia State Foosball Championships. Post-Covid, our development across the Atlantic is going very well! We ship a container of 30 foosball tables every three or four months.
You also install many of your tables in offices and public spaces in France and the United States.
Brands often call on us when developing a space in their offices for socializing, which helps to reinforce the ties we lost during the pandemic. We also receive orders for bespoke models. We have worked with Cartier, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Perrier, and Taittinger, the official Champagne of the FIFA World Cup. In partnership with Berluti, our workshop in Bagnolet, east of Paris, even developed a leather-covered foosball table! A few years ago, 70 Bonzini tables were made available to travelers in French train stations, and when France hosted the UEFA European Championship in 2016, we worked with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux to promote sport and heritage by installing our tables in the Château de Vincennes, Cluny Abbey, and the medieval city of Carcassonne. Our tables are also found in the hotels by French brand Mama Shelter, which has been present in Los Angeles since 2015, as well as in Punch Bowl Social arcades in America, Huttopia campgrounds in California, New York, Maine, and New Hampshire, and numerous bars and cafés across the country.
How has your catalogue developed over time?
For the 1998 World Cup in France, we designed a giant model that could accommodate up to 11 players on each side – just like a real soccer team! That same year, we introduced our first Black and Brown players. And in 2006, the first female players arrived, because table soccer is also played by women! Since then, when your place an order, you can fully customize both teams. We continue to offer 100% French products, but our tables are keeping pace with changes in society.