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How fussy eaters helped bring a global force in fancy café-bakeries to Ireland

We spoke to the man tasked with getting Le Pain Quotidien to our shores.

Image: LPQIreland/Twitter

PEOPLE ARE BECOMING more picky about their food – and not only when it comes to the taste.

According to Peter Jenkins, the man overseeing the growing empire of Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ) both in Ireland and the UK, more and more customers are also demanding to know where the dish on their plate comes from and how it’s produced.

“Most houses I go into now they have coffee machines in their kitchens, whereas 10 years ago nobody had coffee machines,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“People are very fussy. So if you’re going to do coffee, for example, it’s got to be a really, really good coffee.”

This week the bakery and café-restaurant chain, which began 25 years ago in Belgium, opened its first Irish outlet in the revamped Kildare Village.

LPQ2 Source: LPQIreland/Twitter

It repeats the formula used across around 235 other locations in 17 countries from India, to the Middle East and Argentina: long, communal tables, where people are fed a menu built around organic, locally-sourced food. And lots of bread, of course.

But despite the global brand and ever-growing footprint, Jenkins insists the company isn’t on a mission to create the Starbucks of fancy café-bakeries.

“Other brands do what they do, we just make sure wherever we are (what we do) reflects the neighbourhood or reflects the market,” he said.

“You’re probably going to see 75-80% of the menu will be a typical, global LPQ menu but there’s always that local element and local twist.

My wife is Irish, so I said we’ve got to have an Irish stew (here) and it’s got to be a pretty good Irish stew, because I think that they’re going to be very fussy with it.”

Peter Jenkins-504 Le Pain Quotidien's Peter Jenkins

Local suppliers for local appetites

The result for the initial foray into Ireland is a trans-European mish-mash of a menu that includes ‘petit déjeuner’ for breakfast, alongside Flahavan’s porridge and Belgian waffles.

More than 90% of the produce sold in the outlet at Kildare Village, a shopping complex Jenkins oversaw for two years in the late 2000s before returning to his native UK, will come from local suppliers.

Those providers include the Tartine Organic Bakery in Swords, which scored a key role at an eatery with a name that translates as ‘the daily bread’.

Meanwhile, Galway-based soup supplier Galmere Foods so impressed Jenkins he decided to take its products back to London, where the chain already has 25 outlets.

LPQ1 Source: LPQIreland/Twitter

“Whenever I see (LPQ founder Alain Coumont), he’ll say to me ‘are all your ingredients organic’, ‘where are you sourcing them from’, ‘talk to me about your suppliers’.

Of course he’s interested in the business side of things, but it will always be around the building blocks first.”

Now that it has a presence in Ireland, the company plans wants to find at least 2 more locations in the next year, with the capital the initial focus. The chain expects to employ upwards of 120 people in the country within 2 years.

“Even in 2008 to 2009 when I lived here, Dublin was one of the most fantastic cities in the world,” Jenkins said.

There’s an energy, there’s a vibrancy – and the people give it that; the tightness of the city compared to London gives it that as well.”

Changing appetites

A lot besides the city’s slow crawl out of the recession has happened since those years, not least cafés and restaurants serving organic, locally-sourced fare popping up like mushrooms after rain.

Not that Jenkins necessarily sees that as a problem – neither for the competition nor the chance his company will find itself on the wrong side of the latest foodie fads.

“I think the products might change, whether it’s a burger today or Vietnamese food tomorrow, but it’s going to come back to the ingredients and where they’re from and how good they are.

I can just see whether it’s in Dublin or in Kildare or in other places around Ireland that we are going to be well received, but we’ve got to be good – we have to be great or otherwise, with the choice, people will go elsewhere.”

READ: EU countries won’t be able to opt out from genetically-modified food >

READ: ‘Remember a few years ago we were told butter was bad for you?’ >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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