Boston will get a little je ne sais quoi for breakfast and lunch come spring, when the French bakery chain Paul — with roots in the 19th century — is scheduled to open at Downtown Crossing, one of four shops it plans for the area next year.
Paul, which has nearly 600 locations in 29 countries, says its "products and shops exude a French way of life." In 2011, the chain opened its first US bakeries in Washington, D.C., and later expanded to Miami. Boston will become the third US city on the menu.
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the One Boston Place location Friday morning, Paul USA chief executive Philippe Sanchez gave Mayor Thomas M. Menino a special loaf of bread inscribed with Menino's name. From the mayor's reaction, it seemed apparent the loaf would not have a long shelf life.
"I love bread," he said in accepting the gift.
The 6,000-square-foot Downtown Crossing space will have an on-site bakery, and feature a full menu of breads like baguette Charlemagne and fougasse, a variety of sandwiches, and sweeter items such as crepes, tarts, and macarons.
Beyond the One Boston Place restaurant and three other locations not yet specified, Paul says it will open seven more shops in the region by 2017.
Sanchez said expanding to Boston was a logical step for the international chain. The city, he said, "has a European flair, it is incredibly international. It makes for a great customer base."
A British food chain, Pret a Manger, opened in Boston last year, offering traditional sandwiches at three stores.
Fabien Fieschi, Boston's consul general of France, attended the Friday groundbreaking and sounded a lot like an ambassador for the bakery.
"The French community is incredibly excited about Paul opening in Boston," he said. "And Bostonians who didn't know about Paul will soon experience the excitement of the French community."