‘Knox French Coach’ Crépieux builds business on community values

Tracy Haun OwensOur Town Neighbors

As a young man being mentored as an engineer in France, Sébastien Crépieux couldn’t have imagined the path that would lead him to own a tutoring business in Knoxville, Tenn. But in taking this journey, he’s found a community, a vocation and a family life he loves.

Crépieux established his business, Knox French Coach, a couple of years after moving here with his wife, Elizabeth Johnson, in 2008. He began with three students, age 5 to 14, and has since tutored more than 100 people of all ages on how to communicate in his native language. As his students or their families have expressed a desire to learn other languages, such as German or Spanish, he has added subcontractors who are native speakers of those languages.

Crépieux met his Midwestern wife in France in 2005, and the two were soon determined to settle somewhere together. She accepted a chance to work in France just as he was offered a job in the United States. Finally the stars aligned for them to settle in Knoxville, when Johnson accepted a position as a professor in the Child and Family Studies department at the University of Tennessee. They moved here with nothing but two backpacks and soon settled in. The couple now live with their two small sons in Old North Knoxville.

Although Crépieux had been working in engineering product development in France, he had landed in East Tennessee during one of the worst job markets in memory.

“I was starting to be a little dispirited” about finding a job, he says, when a friend approached him about tutoring. “I realized that I have something of value to offer this community.”

He also found the man he credits as his mentor, Jean-Pierre Granju, who founded the Foreign Language Academy on South Peters Road 28 years ago. Coincidentally, Granju had also studied engineering in his native France.

“He supported my dream,” Crépieux says. Crépieux still teaches sometimes at the academy, but his own business has a different focus than the academy. He meets students where they want to meet, in their homes or coffee shops, for as few or as many times as desired. Crépieux has also established a word-of-mouth niche among homeschoolers.

He loves sharing his culture with students, particularly those who know France only as the place of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. He grew up in the Loire Valley, in a village full of stately ancient walls and picturesque castles.

“I wish every kid could travel to a different country,” he says.

An engineering job might be more lucrative, but the flexibility that owning his own business gives him “is priceless,” he says, as he and his wife juggle raising their sons.

“It’s not what you have materialistically,” he says he tells his sons. “It’s that you have the love of your parents, your brother, your family.”

He continues, “People can forget what’s important. At the end of the day, family and community matter.”

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