When James Cameron and John McCormack visited Paris 10 years ago they instantly fell in love with the food and ambience of a bakery-cafe called Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ).
The cafe, whose name means ‘daily bread’ in French, served up dusty, artisan-style loaves and wonderful pastries and tarts in a rustic environment featuring recycled wood and a homely atmosphere. A communal table created an informal atmosphere welcoming people and encouraging them to meet and talk.
Cameron and McCormack liked it so much they yearned for a similar eatery in Australia.
“[But] we thought it too French and too sophisticated for the Australian market,” Cameron recalls. “We didn’t realise it was a franchise at that stage and we fantasised about opening an LPQ in Australia.”
Over the next few years, they returned to Paris regularly and took the opportunity to conduct further research into the business and assess its potential for the Australian market. A big question mark, though, was whether its Parisian charm would be lost in transportation. An examination of other markets emboldened the Sydney pair.
Cameron explains: “Three years ago we visited Paris, London and New York and decided to explore the [LPQ] bakeries in those cities and compare the English version with the French – to our surprise both London and New York were more successful than Paris.”
Encouraged, they touched down in Australia with fresh dreams of their own LPQ stores in Sydney and Melbourne.
“On our return home we immediately emailed the company registering our interest in bringing LPQ to Australia,” Cameron says.
A positive response put them on their way.
A learning curve
Launched in 1987 by Belgian chef Alain Coumont in search of a superior loaf of bread, Le Pain Quotidien now has scores of cafes in more than 10 countries.
With a philosophy that bread should nourish not only the body but the spirit as well, it has proven a hit from Brussels to New York, Moscow and – thanks to Cameron and McCormack – Sydney.
They have opened four stores in the city’s cafe hubs of The Rocks, Double Bay, Bondi Junction (Westfield) and Pitt Street (Westfield).
Cameron admits the initial business stage proved challenging for the pair as they came to terms with the processes involved in buying the rights to the franchise.
Even with expert advice, bringing LPQ down under has been difficult for these entrepreneurs.
“Although we had experience in running businesses before, we had never been involved with a franchise and the levels of reporting required,” Cameron says. “There are no shortcuts in this process and it is important to follow contractual arrangements to the letter.
“I have a food and beverage retail background, but no experience in hospitality so the learning curve was a huge one. I didn’t realise how little I knew the industry before we entered it.”
While both men had always focused on plans and goals to maintain momentum, they agree that a third ingredient has been essential to the success of the Sydney cafes.
“Loving what you do and learning and experiencing new things is a buzz,” Cameron says.
High price to pay
Bringing a new cafe concept to Australia has been exhilarating for Cameron and McCormack. The costs, however, have added up.
“Capital expenditure and fit-out costs are enormous and before we opened we relied upon the franchisor’s experience,” Cameron says.
Weighing up the pros and cons of buying an established business and brand is important for would-be cafe owners.
“An established business can have its advantages, but the good ones don’t come cheap. For our level of experience and style of business I think our franchise relationship is an excellent way to go – it helps with systems and set-up, but still leaves room for local flair and decision-making.”
The LPQ venture has also underlined the importance to Cameron and McCormack of a strong business relationship. A financial, emotional and physical attachment to the business is essential from day one.
“Our commitment is very strong and our roles in the business are well defined. I think the support we offer each other is fantastic and it is a hard job to do on your own so it’s all good from this end.”
Opening more doors
Cameron admits business is not always smooth sailing. At the top of the agenda in ensuring success are two key factors: working in all levels of the business, and hiring the right people.
Cameron comments: “We have never been afraid to get our hands dirty – we lead by example and become part of the team.”
Staff training is also an important component of the business.
“Keep training and encourage people to become the best they can. Don’t expect superstars in two weeks – give people a chance to get to know the job and, if they don’t work out, move them on quickly when that decision has been made.”
Word-of-mouth campaigns and cheap marketing strategies have also helped drive business.
“One advertising medium that works well in the local area is direct mail – never underestimate its power,” Cameron says. “This seems to be the best way to build the business.”
With these strategies now well entrenched, Cameron and McCormack are confident of ongoing success as their love affair with the LPQ concept continues. They realise, though, that success does not come overnight.
“Although we don’t get it right every time we are achieving high standards. This, in turn, has led to fantastic customer response and a lot of repeat and referral business.”