France, the country that gave the world the word “patisserie”, a nation famous for its macaroons, meringues and millefeuilles, whose restaurants strive for gastronomic perfection and whose baguette is on the UN heritage list, has fallen for another foreign interloper: the American doughnut, or more precisely the Krispy Kreme.
On a freezing morning last week, 400 people, some having camped out all night, formed an uncharacteristically orderly queue for the opening of the US chain’s first outlet in a central Paris shopping centre.
As a mechanical production line imported from North Carolina produced a steady stream of white-glazed doughnuts inside, the crowd outside watched mesmerised before swarming through the doors in scenes reminiscent of the first day of the sales or the release of the latest iPhone.
“We’d done a lot of promotion beforehand but I never imagined such a reaction in the country of croissants and pains au chocolat,” Alexandre Maizoué, Krispy Kreme’s director general in France, told the Observer.
“By the time we opened, there were 400 people waiting to come in, and when I shut the doors at 10pm I honestly thought people were going to kill me. They were tapping on the glass ,wanting me to open up again. I went out with a tray of doughnuts to placate them and there were people running up from all directions.”
French patisserie is part of the French cuisine’s “cultural exception”. However, younger generations fed a diet of The Simpsons, The Kardashians and crime show detectives – all doughnut fans – have created a demand for something other than hand-crafted French fancies.
From 8am to 10pm, seven days a week, around 42,000 Krispy Kreme doughnuts in 13 flavours will be produced at the store in Les Halles shopping precinct, previously the site of one of the multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurants. A red neon “Hot Now” sign announces a new batch of doughnuts off the production line.
Lawyer Pierre Cloarac, 39, who popped in for a cinnamon Krispy Kreme and a whipped cream-topped coffee on Friday, said the doughnuts took him back to a trip to the United States. “It’s like the madeleines of Proust, a reminder of that holiday 10 years ago. When I saw the place had opened, I thought I’d try one here. It’s special because it brings back memories, but I certainly won’t be coming every day and I wouldn’t have queued all night for one.”
Merenui Ramos, 19, a fashion school student, said she had seen the new store announced on TikTok and thought she would come and see what the fuss was all about. “I’d never heard of Krispy Kreme before so I wanted to try one. I was surprised at how good they are. Very good. My favourite is the one with spéculoos [spiced biscuits].”
Fama Ndiaye, 20, also studying fashion, added: “It’s very American and very good. I don’t think we’ll stop eating croissants, but they’re different, and it’s good to try something else.”
Krispy Kreme announced its arrival in France at the start of the year and began an intensive marketing campaign last month, distributing more than 100,000 free doughnuts in the French capital. A fly-poster campaign included a play on French president Emmanuel Macron’s name – “macaron demission” (macaroon resign). This upset city hall, with the deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, describing it as “illegal … and polluting”.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc was founded in North Carolina in 1937 by American businessman Vernon Carver Rudolph who, legend has it, met a French chef before finalising his recipe between the wars.
American fast food has made deep inroads into France over the last decade. McDonald’s arrived in France in 1979, and the country is now its second biggest market per head of population after the US. KFC set up in France in 1991. Burger King opened in France in 1980, left in 1997 and returned in 2012.
The free newspaper 20 Minutes wrote: “Forget the beef bourguignon, the ratatouille and the debate croissant versus pain au chocolate. The restaurant industry in France has taken on an Omaha Beach air, with more and more American franchises opening. In the last 10 years alone, you can count the arrival of Steak’n’Shake in 2014, Five Guys in 2016, Carl’s Jr in 2018, Popeye’s in 2023 and the latest Krispy Kreme and their doughnuts.”
Maizoué said Krispy Kreme would be opening in supermarkets and other strategic locations in the city, including railway stations within the next few months. He described himself as a “pure product” of French patisserie but insisted there was plenty of room in the market for doughnuts.
“We have brought a little bit of American pop culture to France. We’re adding something to France, not taking anything away,” he said.