Walk into any Le Pain Quotidien around the world and a long wooden table is the centerpiece of a bakery café that began in Brussels, back in 1990.
From the first store on Rue Danasert, Le Pain Quotidien is the success story of baker Alain Coumont, who after 28 years of building a brand, arrived in Bogotá to oversee the final details of his first Colombian outlet and No. 281 in the world.
Accoutred with two of Colombia’s most emblematic items, a woolly mochila made by the Arhuaco peoples in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and a white Aguadeño hat worn by coffee farmers, Coumont takes his place at the communal table with baskets of croissants, pain du chocolate and baguette slices.
The iconic table, Coumont explains, was an “accident” when after visiting a flea market, he came across an old seamstress’ table and decided to put it in the middle of his first store that was only 36-square meters in size. “It’s still part of our DNA because it has history,” he explains.
For the maverick baker-turned-entrepreneur, Colombia is the result of “a great partnership” with investors, and while he is very familiar with Latin America (the company has an established presence in Brazil, Argentina and Chile), Coumont believes local clients will take to LPQ’s objective of using only the freshest ingredients in food that is simple and healthy. “The restaurant industry has become standardized with too much processing. We look for the perfectly ‘imperfect’.”
Colombian coffee arrives at the table and Coumont stresses that local produce, from vegetables to cheeses, are part of LPQ’s bread-inspired menu that includes Breakfast with eggs, fruit and cereals, Belgian classics such as waffles with berries, Tartines on sourdough with Andean trout or chicken curry, and the Soup of the day. “When I opened my first bakery we had no kitchen, so we used very good bread with simple ingredients. This is still part of our philosophy,” he explained.
Having baked his first apple pie at age 3 in his grandmother’s kitchen, Coumont took up cooking as a profession at age 16, when, after seeing a documentary on T.V about “healthy nouvelle cuisine,” he realized that being a chef could be “artistic.” He went on to work in four of Paris’ best five restaurants, where, he recalls, chefs were “obsessive” about ingredients. Obsessive about all-things fresh, Coumont, a self-professed “part-time vegetarian” began to look at wheat, the essential ingredient in bread. “There is a recipe and method you have to respect. It’s not rocket science.”
A taste of the familiar is at the heart of Le Pain Quotidien, beginning with the name that recalls an expression his father used frequently: “moi, ce n’est pas mon pain quotidien!” – which translates as “this is not my daily bread.” Know- ing that he didn’t have to look further than his family ties to decide on the words to hang above his bakery door, “the daily bread” is infused with charm, and a décor where the past meets the present. Now, Bogotanos have the opportunity to taste the house’s classic rustic loaves, fruit preserves and bowls of coffee.
In 1997, Coumont opened his first U.S. store on Madison Avenue in New York City, and as other cities followed, Le Pain Quotidien became associated as the neighborhood café, a place to meet for a business breakfast or for lunch with friends. “I wanted to have a place where I could feel at home… away from home,” says the founder of what makes the experience of being inside anyone of LPQ’s venues so special. “It was a retro-innovation, to focus on food, rather than fussiness.”
The opening of Le Pain Quotidien in Parque 93 is part of a long-term strategy by the Brussels-based company to expand within a city with potential clients that are increasingly conscious about eating affordable, well prepared and healthy foods.
For the Belgian baker with the broad brim sombrero, the business model that became a global reference for quality food and attention begins in every home. “I wouldn’t serve anything, I wouldn’t give my children,” he says.
Le Pain Quotidien Calle 93A No.12- 35