Paris Baguette America is on a mission to re-establish neighbourhood bakeries at the heart of US communities. The brand’s CEO Darren Tipton and Chief Development Officer Mark Mele speak to World Coffee Portal about the magic of baking in-store and being poised for expansion across North America and beyond
Paris Baguetteʼs new US store design places bakery products centre-stage | Photo credit: Paris Baguette America
With speed and convenience driving the strategies of many branded café chains around the world today, it can be easy to forget the simple pleasures of savouring freshly baked bread and espresso at your local neighbourhood café.
Since opening its first store in South Korea in 1988, Paris Baguette has sought to provide its customers with a slice of European bakery culture through fresh bread, pastries and premium coffee.
It was a novel concept in 1980s South Korea, but one that gained significant traction. By 1992 there were more than 100 Paris Baguette stores and today the brand has more than 3,400 stores in its native market and a further 1,600 globally.
Arriving in the US in 2005 and opening its first franchised locations in 2015, Paris Baguette America is carrying the torch of those same principles in the North American market, where it currently operates more than 135 locations and plans to reach more than 1,000 by 2030.
Establishing its own take on the brand while retaining its core principles, Paris Baguette America has made its mission to reignite the neighbourhood café, an experience the company’s CEO Darren Tipton says has fallen into decline but holds tremendous growth potential among today’s consumers.
“There’s something magical about going into a real bakery and seeing and smelling all the products. We’re on a real quest to re-establish the neighbourhood bakery café as the heart of the community,” Tipton says. Taking the reins of the company in January 2020, Tipton could hardly have imagined the pressure that Covid-19 would place on that mission.
“Covid was an incredibly challenging time, but we largely managed to remain open. We had some pockets in Manhattan and other urban markets where we were forced to close, but we positioned ourselves as delivering an essential need for bread, bakeries and coffee.”
“We’re very particular about the real estate we select and we tell our franchisees to wait for that homerun site”
– Mark Mele, Chief Development Officer, Paris Baguette America
With pandemic trading restrictions thankfully fading into memory, Paris Baguette America is now seizing the opportunity for growth.
In January 2022, the bakery café unveiled a major revamp of its US store network to double-down on the brand’s neighbourhood centricity and fill a gap in the market for community-focused hospitality. Paris Baguette’s new stores are designed with conviviality at their core, with wide open spaces punctuated with intimate seating areas and the brand’s core bakery offer taking centre stage with prominent 360-degree displays.
Spearheading the bakery café chain’s real estate strategy is Chief Development Officer Mark Mele, who has been at the forefront of Paris Baguette America’s rapid growth – anticipated to be in the region of one new store opening every week in 2023.
With 37 years’ franchise development experience under his belt, Mele says his priority is always to find the right high footfall locations to deploy the brand’s neighbourhood café experience.
“We’re very particular about the real estate we select, and we tell our franchisees to wait for that home-run site. It’s all about the real estate and it’s got to be the right location,” he says.
“We have 60 units in various stages of construction right now across 27 states, with more than ten more on the horizon” Mele adds. “There’s a lot of momentum, it’s really rocking and rolling.”
As Tipton attests, many of Paris Baguette’s US stores are trading at up to 50% like-for-like sales growth compared to 2019 levels – and achievement that is not the result of price increases.
“We started in the urban markets, now we’re penetrating suburbia and we’re often seeing the results are stronger than our urban cafés. There isn’t anywhere we can’t go,” he says.
Following the disruption of the pandemic and rocketing costs for energy, labour, rents and raw materials, many US coffee operators have set their sights on convenience formats with lower overheads, such as smaller stores geared towards pick-up and delivery, as well as drive-thru.
The latter channel is gaining significant traction in the US, with market leader Starbucks reporting as much as 50% of its revenues are generated through drive-thru transactions.
Meanwhile, US food-to-go and coffee operator Panera Bread continues to develop its digital offer, with the channel contributing around 50% of the coffee and food-to-go chain’s sales.
Like coffee shops the world over, Paris Baguette America tapped into delivery and pick-up sales to offset Covid trading restrictions. However, with its neighbourhood café ethos firmly embedded in the brand, in-store trade will be the focus going forward.
“Delivery and pick-up are not a big segment of our business”, says Tipton. “In fact, delivery is a little under 4%. Compared to a lot of the other national chains we’re far below the average because there’s something about the magic of coming into a bakery, smelling and seeing all the diverse products we have to offer, which would be very difficult to replicate at a drive-thru,” he adds.
“It just wouldn’t do the brand justice,” adds Mele. A lot of brands had to pivot and put in a second, third and fourth drive-thru lane. We didn’t go in that direction – people still wanted to come in for the experience – that told us a lot.”
The crema of the crop
In early 2023, Paris Baguette America unveiled a new partnership with Lavazza, which saw the iconic Italian coffee roaster create a custom coffee programme encompassing espresso based beverages, equipment provision and staff training alongside an RTD range and branded cup collaboration.
“Almost 80% of our core offering is bread, pastries and cakes and we’ll remain true to that. But coffee is a crucial component of any bakery café,” says Tipton.
“We’re finding out now with Lavazza really just how powerful that is for both brands to join forces and the guest is the ultimate beneficiary of that,” adds Mele.
With Lavazza providing the icing in the cake for Paris Baguette America’s neighbourhood café format, the brand is now poised for further growth in Canada – and even further afield.
Paris Baguette America launched in Canada with a Toronto outlet in March 2023 and has signed 20 more franchise agreements for further stores in Alberta and Edmonton.
“We’re currently focused on North America and we’ll continue through Central and South America; our research has started in Mexico too,” says Tipton.
“There’s no doubt Paris Baguette’s core offering resonates around the world,” Mele says.
With Paris Baguette also making its debut in the UK and Malaysia in 2023, the future looks bright for South Korea’s flagship bakery-café concept, demonstrating that great coffee and top-notch bakery products can transcend cultures the world over.