The cafe was founded by the late Shoichi TATENO in 1934. He later purchased a two-story wooden private house adjacent to the cafe on its north side, and in 1941 converted it into a cafe, which is still there to this day. Before it was remodeled, the house had been a machiya, a traditional townhouse found mainly in Kyoto that was built during the Meiji or Taisho periods.
With war looming, Tateno asked Benci BENI, an Italian studying architecture at Kyoto University who was a friend of his, to remodel the private house in order to provide a place where people could talk about ideas and art freely. While remodeling the house, Benci BENI designed it in Western style. The interior represents a luxury passenger liner cabin. The cafe was designed by Benci BENI, but the construction work itself was undertaken by Japanese carpenters, who had done interior finishing work for the Bank of Japan building, and by sashimonoshi (cabinet makers). A two-storied, tile-roofed wooden structure, the cafe has a building area of 40 square meters.
The interior is gorgeously decorated in the Baroque style, which flourished in Europe around the 17th century, and colorful stained glass is fitted in the walls and windows. The greatest feature of the cafe is its domed ceiling. The columns incorporate Renaissance-style entasis. Splendid patterns are carved onto everything from the upper part of the columns to furniture and furnishings. On the walls hang paintings of Pablo PICASSO, Yumeji TAKEHISA, and other artists. Other features include old European lamps and chairs with a velvet-covered seats, which have remained unchanged since the cafe opened.
The cafe was named after Jean-François MILLET, a French painter. The founder Shoichi TATENO attended an art school aiming to be an artist. As Japan became increasingly militaristic, he opposed such a tendency and opened the cafe as a place for enlightening people on socialism. The cafe was intended to provide a place where people could talk about thought and art freely, and also had the function of serving as a center for thinkers. Tateno was influenced by such writers as Naoya SHIGA and Saneatsu MUSHANOKOJI, who advocated naturalist literature. These writers had taken over the thoughts of painters of the Barbizon school. The most prominent artist in the school was François MILLET, the origin of the cafe's name.
But after the Pacific War broke out, the cafe could not afford to serve coffee, but fortunately survived the war while offering bancha (coarse tea) and dried bananas under the different name of 'Miyako Sabo.'
The cafe was designated by the national government as a registered tangible cultural property (building) on October 18, 2002. François became the first cafe in Japan to be designated as such. The cafe was innovative in that its designs combined Japanese and Western style in the early Showa period, and retains its original structure without being renovated, and these are highly rated.
The cafe is currently run by Ms. Kyoko IMAI, the second-generation manager.