On a recent spring day, just blocks from the White House, Maxime Holder and a team of French and American bakers are busy preparing and testing their first batches of bread; kneading, pounding and then listening for the crackle of a perfectly baked French loaf.
“Our family is passionate about bread,” explained Holder, Chairman of Groupe PAUL. “More than being an art, we think that giving good bread to people is something that is very important.”
Holder represents the fifth generation of a family business rooted in the craft of baking. His first memories of baking are with his father and grandmother in their bakery in the North of France.
On May 2, Holder will open PAUL’s first flagship in the United States, a dream that began with his father.
With more than 300 stores across France, PAUL’s black façade is a familiar sight along French streets and train station kiosks. Opening in Washington D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood marks the first time the bakery stakes a major claim in the U.S.
The chain has stores in more than 20 other countries. There is also a franchise in Miami, but the D.C. boulangerie represents the first fully-owned PAUL store in the U.S.
Holder chose to bring a baker and pastry chef from France as culinary “ambassadors” training their American counterparts. While the breads with names like, “Fougasse” and “Le Charlemagne” are quintessentially French, the flour is American, shipped from Wisconsin.
“The organic flour that we found locally in the United States is really, really good so we decided not to bring the flour from France but to use the American flour,” explained Holder. “I’m quite proud because this is the only country in which we (are) using organic flour.
Holder sees the development of PAUL USA as a long-term investment the current economic climate.
“I’m very confident in the United States,” Holder said. “I think that coming in a country when it’s not so easy, it’s part of being the story. The fact that we are coming now means that we do trust the country and the opportunities that we can meet.”
The bakery chain already has plans to open its next shop in Georgetown this summer. The President of PAUL USA, Phillippe Sanchez, says so far he’s pleased with Washington’s reaction.
“It is truly the very same baguette you can buy on the Champs-Élysées,” said Sanchez. “So for us, this is a big moment.”
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