On a sticky Sunday in July, heat radiates from the concrete in Penn Quarter. The water in the Navy Memorial Fountain has turned a murky chartreuse, as if it needs a quick shot of chlorine. Fanny-pack-clad tourists spill out of the National Archives.
It doesn’t feel much like Paris.
But behind Paul’s gilded door, a melange of easy-listening jazz and scents of baking bread waft through the air. A group of expats chats in French over demitasse cups of espresso. A young couple speak excitedly about an upcoming trip to Europe. A boy abandons his Declaration of Independence replica to get a better look at a glistening raspberry tart. (Thursday’s Bastille Day baguette relay should bolster Paul’s European ambiance as well.)
Like Five Guys, Starbucks and every chain eatery that came before them, Washington’s Paul is cut to a pattern. Although thousands of miles from its overseas counterparts, the American shop has the same black-and-white checkerboard floor, country French sconces and exposed wood-beamed ceilings.
“What we offer here is exactly what you will find in France — it’s the same proposition that started many years ago in Paris,” Philippe Sanchez said.
Sanchez, chief executive of the newly formed company Paul USA, will lead the expansion of the brand as it radiates from Penn Quarter to Northern Virginia, Maryland and onward up the East Coast. Inside the Beltway, Paul’s proliferation will put it in competition with established neighborhood chains such as Marvelous Market, Firehook Bakery & Coffee House and Belgian import Le Pain Quotidien.
Mark Furstenberg, bakery consultant and former owner of Marvelous Market and Breadline D.C., said the increasing saturation of the city’s bread market is a good thing.
“Any retail bakery is a good bakery,” said Furstenberg, who is credited with igniting the artisanal bread movement in the District with the opening of Marvelous Market in 1991. Furstenberg, who plans to open a bakery and pastry shop in Dupont Circle this year, said he hopes the addition of Paul will help revive Washington’s “brief flirtation” with an enduring bread culture.
According to Sanchez, Paul executives selected the District as the location for their new company because of its large international community and its vibrant restaurant culture. The District’s French aesthetic, courtesy of architect Pierre L’Enfant, was not a factor in the decision.