What are some of the changes that have taken place at PAUL since its inception 128 years ago?

We used to be a single bakery in a small town, but now PAUL is a global brand. To me, you are international when you open the same shop all over the world, but you are global when you open a shop in a new country and after some time, you become a part of that country. This is only possible when you find a way to be loyal to what you are, while at the same time showing respect to the local customers of the country. So, we’ve made minor changes, but we’ve stayed true to my family’s 128-year heritage, while incorporating the latest gastronomic trends.

How many members of the original family are still part of the bakery now?

Established in northern France more than 100 years ago, PAUL has bakeries in 36 countries. With its first branch on the African continent having recently opened in Johannesburg’s Melrose Arch, Maxime Holder, chairman of PAUL International, tells us about its sweet offering

Five family members are still part of PAUL: my father, who is in charge of the business in France; my older brother, who focuses on the development of the brand; my younger sister, who specialises in the marketing and communication; my mother, who is a member of the board; and me – I deal with international expansion. So, as you can see, this really is a family passion.

Please tell us the story of PAUL…

The origins of PAUL can be traced back to 1889 in the small town of Croix, in northern France, where my great-great-grandfather, Charlemagne Mayot, and my great-great-grandmother owned a small but busy bakery. They passed their knowledge and passion on to my great-grandfather, Edmond-Charlemagne – who in time, together with my great-grandmother Victorine, took over managing the family business in 1908. My great-grandparents in turn taught the secrets of their trade to my grandmother, Suzanne. She married my grandfather, Julien Holder, who was also a baker, and in 1935, they decided to buy a bakery in Lille, in the north of France. That bakery was well known, although it was a single shop. It had been founded by the Paul family and carried their family name, which was tradition in those days. Because PAUL was quite famous in Lille at that time, my grandparents decided to keep the name. So, the first PAUL shop was founded many years ago in the north of France, and was bought by my family and developed into the brand it is today.

My father, Francis, shared our family’s deep affinity for artisanal baking and, in 1953, began working in his parents’ bakery. He inherited the business after his father’s death in 1958, and opened a second bakery in 1963. In 1985, he opened the first PAUL bakery outside of France, in Japan, shortly followed by Morocco in 1987. Today, the small family business founded in a tiny corner of northern France is represented in 36 countries around the globe.

Do all the bakeries look the same, or do they take the character of that country?

We have 673 outlets worldwide… our aim really is to export a small part of France to the new location. If you look at PAUL Melrose Arch, the display that we’ve introduced here is the same as any one you’ll find in France.

What are your signature dishes/items on the menu?

We have staples on our menu that you’ll find across the globe such as our croissants, eclairs, millefeuille chocolat, fruit tartlets, baguette sandwiches, confit de canard and onion soup. With that said, we also respect the tradition and nuances of each country. I had my first red latté, which was made at PAUL Melrose Arch. I believe that this is very popular in South Africa, so we’ve introduced red lattés on the South African menu. We also adapted the South African breakfast menu to include omelettes, which isn’t a traditional breakfast food in France.

What made you choose South Africa, and why Melrose Arch?

In 2012, I visited South Africa for the first time, and I spent three days in Johannesburg and then three days in Cape Town. I remembered how hard it was to return to France after my time here, especially given the weather, and because I was quite impressed with what I discovered. I believe that South Africa is the perfect place for PAUL to open, because I believe PAUL could have a long-lasting future in South Africa. We selected Melrose Arch because it offers a good mix of customers and is centrally located. It offers a location from where we can operate on a seven-day basis.

Can we expect more PAUL bakeries in South Africa in the future?

My family takes the same approach in our development and expansion as we do in our bread – we give it time; it’s good for the fermentation of the dough, and I believe it’s good for the development of the brand in every single new market. We will only look to find a second location after a couple of months. But based on our business model, the next store will open in close vicinity to the flagship, to be able to run two or three shops with the same team.

How would you describe “the art of living”?

Wherever you go in France; people are passionate about food. It really is our way of life – having good food and sharing a good time. For instance, at lunch time in France, everyone will go out – you won’t have a sandwich in front of your computer, and you won’t go to eat by yourself. So, the French art de vivre really is a concept that centres on meeting people, having a good time and enjoying good-quality food in a warm atmosphere, which is something we always aim to create in our restaurants.