A good decade before Starbucks came to France, there was Columbus Café. You may have seen one of the dozen locations around central Paris with their window of muffins and posters advertising free WiFi. They might look like a North American chain, but aside from the inspiration of American espresso bars, Columbus Café is a French company, opened in 1994 by Ralph Hababou and Philippe Bloch.
They chose the name “Columbus” for Christopher Columbus and his representation of the New World’s coffee and Italian savoir-faire of coffee-making. The bear in the logo…no idea where that comes from. In any case, the brand has positioned itself as a very “multicultural” one, and even the slogan on their site “Take time for yourself” is in English.
It took a few years for the idea to take off. I the beginning there were china coffee cups and more espresso drinks than coffee drinks. Now there are only paper cups (5 ounce, 8 ounce and 12 ounce cups, and recently a 16 ounce cup added), and well more coffee drinks than espresso drinks. The number of muffins has also expanded over the years to about two dozen flavors, and I’ll admit it’s hard to resist them when walking by the café in the Marais (at rue Vielle du Temple). You can add caramel or vanilla flavor, substitute soy for regular milk, and yes, hang out in the café to check your email on the free Wifi network. I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but I do like their soy chai lattes, and you can get fresh squeezed orange juice (which is still not the case in all Parisian cafés).
Not that I’m encouraging everyone to go to Columbus Café. At the end of the day, a chain is a chain, and encouraging people to eat mass-made muffins and drink from disposable coffee cups isn’t exactly healthy or ecologically sound. But if you’re dying for a Starbucks fix, at least at Columbus Café you can support a French company instead of a foreign one (and if you’re really gung ho, you can even open your own Columbus Café franchise). Who ever said the French don’t have a word for entrepreneur? 😉
Main Paris locations:
- 46 Boulevard Henri IV, 4th
- 21 rue Soufflot, 5th
- 56 Boulevard Diderot, 12th
- Care de Lyon, 12th
- Passy Plaza, 16th
I remember living for a while in the 7eme and having to get my Sunday coffee at the rue St. Dominique location because my favorite haunt..Cafe Malar was closed. The coffee was okay, but Peets in San Francisco cannot be beat! I liked the fact that I could get a "large' coffee, but the "muffins" were a bit earthy for me and I felt that most Parisians in that quartier felt the same.
Very interesting. I agree, I wouldn't want to necessarily encourage anyone to go to Columbus but it's certainly a less globalised alternative to Starbucks. Thanks for putting it on my radar – will come in handy when I have people visiting in dire need of a mocha latte fix!
Malongo is another great coffee shop that is, in essence, similar to Starbucks. There is one on Rue St Andre des Arts that I always loved to go to – and so did plenty of french.
The bear was chosen, as far as we learned in a business case analysis of the firm, exactly because it does not ring a bell at all. It'd have been all too easy to choose a mug, a tea-pot or a muffin as a logo, but that would make the firm hard to distinguish among competitors.
Oh, you liked their chai lattes?? I just got one for the first time at Montparnasse last week and thought "beurk"! Maybe my mistake was not getting soy….he just steamed regular milk and then poured a chai-flavored syrup into the cup and mixed it together – it was way too sweet for me, and there was no tea in sight! So I'll at least have to keep going to Starbucks to get my chai latte fix. 🙂