A North Jersey-based French bakery chain with 90 locations nationwide has its sights set on even greater growth in the next decade. Paris Baguette isn’t a total newcomer, just a newcomer to most places stateside. The Moonachie-based U.S. operations are a subsidiary of a global chain by the same name owned and operated by South Korean conglomerate SPC Group.
The brand launched with corporate stores in Southern California in 2005, began franchising in 2008 and expanded slowly over the next decade. A new management team, led and built by bakery industry pro Darren Tipton since January 2020, aims to shape the next decade into nothing like the first: 1,000 new stores by 2031.
Around 30 new franchised locations are on track to open by the end of this year. In or around early autumn the brand will welcome its 100th. With so many in the hopper, Chief Development Officer Mark Mele just isn’t sure which location will mark the milestone.
He steers clear of disparaging the team that predates him and the rest of new regime. The goal for growth was there, he said. They just needed more expertise in franchising, and “frankly they just didn’t pull it together.”
Tipton’s team – Mele is the newest addition, joining from Lightbridge Academy in November – is comprised of franchising veterans. Mele was vice president of franchising for Rita’s Franchise Co., parent company to Rita’s Italian Ice and previously ran franchising efforts for supplemental education companies Huntington Learning Centers and Kumon. Vice President of Supply Chain Management Eric Galkin spent time as director of global purchasing and supply chain for chocolatier franchise Max Brenner. Vice President of Revenue and Strategic Development Nick Scaccio has held operations roles at chains Le Pain Quotidien, Juice Press, and Punchbowl Social.
“My director of construction, my new store opening director, we’ve all opened a lot of franchises over the last 30 years. We’ve all been there before,” Mele said.
He’s passionate about the model. “I like the idea of a larger company setting up all the risk ahead of time, and setting up the operating systems, setting it up for the small independent business owner to capitalize on it,” he said.
Franchisees can be “really successful without having to put all the sweat into it by having someone else to develop the system. Essentially, that’s what smart franchisors have done: Develop a smart system for operators to come in and ride on their coattails,” he said.
To open a location of Paris Baguette, franchisees typically spend under $1 million. Profitability per location per year is approximately $1.9 million.
The beauty of the franchise model, Mele noted, is that the franchisee brings the money, while the franchisor brings the expertise. Paris Baguette runs 30 of its cafes corporately, which keeps company officials abreast of any current challenges franchisees might face.
In his efforts to expand franchise development, Mele knows he’ll have hurdles to jump, because brand recognition in the United States is not strong. “We’ve got a great brand, but why don’t people know about the brand? Some of our locations are not in lifestyle centers, they’re buried in secondary markets. We need to come onto the scene and come into high retail exposure centers,” Mele said.
There are locations in New York City, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco. But what about Dallas, what about Boston, what about Philadelphia? They’re on the menu. They’re coming this year.
“The focus is bringing this brand out to mainstream America. Our roots are in baking, and you don’t find a lot of that in the U.S. You just don’t see the neighborhood corner bakery around anymore. You talk about how manufacturing has gone away. You don’t see baking anymore either,” Mele said.
Globally, the brand has been around since 1988. It made it through the first year of the pandemic unscathed, and it’s one of many foodservice companies to do so. What’s unique about Paris Baguette, though, is that it didn’t pivot to an off-premises model. Catering and online orders accounted for only 10% of 2020 sales. The rest came from its small footprint, grab-and-go model. The chain also has locations in Bound Brook, Ridgefield, Hackensack, Palisades Park and Fort Lee.
Moving forward, Paris Baguette is taking lessons learned from the pandemic for a rollout this year that includes an Edison location: heated and refrigerated lockers for preorders. A customer can order online ahead of time, show up to a set of lockers at the bakery, scan a QR code, and a locker will pop open. Did they order a blueberry yogurt cake? The locker is refrigerated. Did they order an egg & bacon brioche, or a chocolate croissant? It’s nice and warm.
The chain’s global reach—4,000 locations throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East—”help a lot from an expansion standpoint” in the United States, Mele said.
“There’s a lot of people coming to the U.S., and especially from Asia, they see Paris Baguette and they’re like ‘wow, you’re here.’ They’re so happy to see Paris Baguette in the states, even though a lot of people here have no idea who Paris Baguette is,” he said.