Le Pain Quotidien: Offering a Relaxed Atmosphere to Break Bread

By the definition of Vincent Herbert, CEO of Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ), his business is not a bakery-café chain. “We’re one store in one neighborhood 182 times,” he says.

The idea for LPQ was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1990 when Alain Coumont, founder of LPQ, was working as a chef. Dissatisfied by the quality of the bread he found in Brussels, Coumont decided to bake his own rustic loaves, reminiscent of those he baked with his grandmother throughout his childhood.

Coumont opened a small shop on rue Dansaert where he served open-faced sandwiches, known as tartines, and simple salads around a long communal table salvaged from a local flea market. Soon, Coumont’s business grew as more people came to enjoy the shared experience of handmade bread, fresh ingredients and a warm setting.

Since then, and with Herbert’s help, LPQ has expanded operations. LPQ now reaches 18 countries, mostly in major metropolitan areas. The café encourages customers to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, to relax and break bread around the communal table. “Even in the big city, we are a community,” says Herbert.

Coumont, who Herbert says is the “creative force” behind the business, is committed to providing customers with a wholesome food experience in a relaxing environment. “We have an edgy, progressive food offering and a clear, compelling purpose,” says Herbert. “We want to slow people down, teach our customers that it’s unhealthy to get into the rat race; there’s more to life. When I see people coming into the restaurant, there is this moment where they decompress.”

Herbert goes on to report that LPQ is flourishing by fulfilling an untapped urban need. “We’re doing well in hectic, urban environments,” he adds. “We’re focused more on offering an emotion than offering a convenience.”

Health Conscious

At LPQ the team takes a lot of pride in the company’s core products. “It’s important to be clear about what we’re offering,” says Herbert. “Many people argue that we should capture the evening day part, but I’ve been saying no. The sign of a strong brand is when it doesn’t appeal to everyone. We can be something to someone rather than everything to everyone.” For that reason, LPQ focuses on baked goods, fresh bread and breakfast and lunch items, operating only from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Serving organic and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible forms the basis of LPQ’s philosophy. The business continues to build lasting relationships with organic partners to ensure ingredients are of the highest quality. While LPQ serves delicious baked goods like croissants, pains au chocolat and Belgian brownies, the restaurants also offer nutritious lunch options such as LPQ’s rustic tuna, hummus and white bean tartine and the organic French lentil salad.
“We want to have fun while we’re providing healthy and responsible food,” says Herbert. “We’re a bakery with the extension of a restaurant. We’re helping people to have more awareness about health. It’s OK to have a croissant on occasion, but really take time to stop and enjoy it.”

Responsible Growth

In 23 years LPQ has grown from its original location to span across the globe. The business now has a large roster, averaging over 6,000 employees working around the world and a strong reputation among frequent customers. “The biggest challenge is to maintain responsible growth,” says Herbert.

Herbert sees growth as a result of good strategy and standing behind the vision of LPQ. He is quick to note that today LPQ is committed to the same values as when the company was established. “As a small company, we are still connected to our original vision and we won’t start compromising,” he says. “The whole challenge is to remain great while we grow.”

Herbert also believes LPQ’s staff understands and supports the business’ philosophy, which contributes to the brand’s success. “It’s extremely important our employees know why we do what we do,” says Herbert.

As a former investment banker, Herbert enjoys the change of direction that comes with being an entrepreneur behind a values-driven business. “At a certain point I was completely disconnected from myself and others,” he says. “It’s amazing to build a business where you can become a better person. We believe in the idea of creating a community-based atmosphere. I feel so passionately about that purpose.”

Herbert and Coumont are truly passionate about the business the duo has developed. “We’re two Belgians working hand-in-hand and making sure that we have a responsible business,” says Herbert.

LPQ has several locations gearing up to open, but Herbert doesn’t want the business to get too big too fast, fearing that irresponsible growth would threaten the company’s values. Herbert does, however, want Le Pain Quotidien to continue being a key part of customers’ lives and a destination for delicious, nourishing meals in a convivial atmosphere.