Paris Baguette is a bakery concept as common in Korea as Starbucks is in the US. Now, the French-inspired chain is ready to win over American consumers.
“Most people that aren’t familiar with the brand think it’s a French brand, not a Korean brand,” Larry Sidoti, the head of the company’s US development, told Business Insider. “We’re not arguing.”
Today, there are more than 3,500 Paris Baguette locations around the world, primarily in Korea and other Asian countries. However, the chain is making a major expansion push in the US, with 45 locations in the country already and plans to open 30 more this year alone.
With no national chain dominating bakery in the way that concepts like Starbucks have dominated coffee and endless fast-food chains have tapped into the burger-and-fries business, Sidoti says that the time is ripe for Paris Baguette to win over Americans.
“The US is one of the most important markets in the world,” he says. “You need to win in Los Angeles and you need to win in New York… If you can’t win those markets, it’s going to be a long haul.”
Paris Baguetteis known for its baked goods: breads, pastries, cakes, croissants.
Sidoti says that the sweet potato croissant is a customer favorite that you won’t find in the average American or French bakery.
“Our product is a little less sweet” than the average American baked good, says Sidoti. “It’s a little more airy and a lot lighter than sweet products and dessert-like products you would get in the States now.”
Paris Baguette has its roots in a confectionery business in South Korea, founded in 1945. The chain is owned by SPC Group, a company that owns and operates a number of food and beverage brands in Korea.
However, “from the start, it was French influenced and inspired,” says Sidoti. “As we evolved, we continued to play off that and look to the French bakery concept and the romance associated with that as inspiration.”
The company has a history of rapid growth. The first Paris Baguette opened in 1988. Four years later, the chain had 100 locations.
The company is not free of controversy. It faced some backlashwhen it opened its first location in France for not being French enough. In fact, all of the company’s dough is made in in South Korea, frozen, and then shipped around the world to the chain’s thousands of locations.
The chain arrived in US in 2005, with the first store opening in Los Angeles, due in part to the city’s large Korean-American population. To this day, about 90% of customers who visit the chain’s Los Angeles location in Koreatown are of Korean descent.
However, as the company begins to expand across the US, its reliance on the Korean customer base is beginning to change. In Manhattan, Sidoti says customer base includes “the whole melting pot.”
“This will be a universally accepted product line and concept,” says Sidoti. “That’s going to take some evolving as a brand to convince people and win that argument.”