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Le Pain Quotidien

Rustic breads, communal tables ... being human in a digital world

Le Pain stands out in a cookie-cutter world of standard formats as authentic and sustainable, human and communal. Whilst the world becomes anglicised, it’s great to see a little French on our streets, albeit Belgian.

Le Pain was founded in Brussels in 1990 by Alain Coumont, and is now famed around the world for its organic breads, coffee bowls and long wooden communal tables.  As a young chef, Coumont was unhappy with the quality of local bread, so he began making his own sourdough loaves. He furnished his cafes with pieces from antique stores and flea markets. The bakery became a restaurant, most famous for its tartines (traditional, open-faced sandwiches).

“Whenever we can, we source organic ingredients. This way, we not only do what is good for the Earth, but we also ensure our ingredients are of the highest quality. It’s about finding the very best, in a way that is good for all of us” says the Belgian entrepreneur.

This philosophy influences every part of the way Le Pain works, “from the food we serve to the design of our stores to the materials we use” has says. “We use reclaimed wood and recycled gypsum in construction, energy-efficient lamps, and environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and packaging”.

Of course, the rustic look could easily be see as just another cosmetic branding device “To us, organic is not a marketing gag as it is for other businesses who only offer environment-friendly coffee and basically greenwash the rest. Our ingredients are expensive, and we invest a lot of time and effort in locating the right suppliers. Organic is a tough business.”

The “communal table” is the centre piece of each bakery-café-restaurant (it’s difficult to say which it really is). “Without this table we would not be where we are today,” says Coumont. Believing that food is only as good as the people who sare it, he adds “a big table is like a good movie; the setting is not the only criteria – the actors are also important.”

Whilst Starbucks has modernised and multiplied the Italian coffee experience, and McDonalds has tried to bring some humanity and goodness to its plastic formats, Le Pain is the real thing. Authenticity, a sense of goodness, a natural and human experience, pervade each of the 200 locations in 20 countries. Each serving big Belgian bowls of hot coffee without any handles.


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