David Holder has the name of a typical Englishman.
But meeting him in the lavish surroundings of his first London Ladurée restaurant in Covent Garden, it is clear he is French through and through.
With shoulder-length hair, beige trousers and light shoes, Holder is every bit the charming continental businessman. If you pronounce David Holder with a French accent then you get the idea.
In fact, he is the fourth generation of a French family baking business that owns Paul, the bakery business with cafés in France, Spain, Holland, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, the UAE and, of course, the UK which now has 29 shops.
And Paul is not the only business for the Holder family. Ladurée, an upmarket patisserie business, is David Holder's pride and joy.
Holder, Ladurée's chairman, is embarking on a global roll-out of the luxury business. Fresh from opening the flagship in the bustling Covent Garden piazza, he intends to launch a takeaway café on Cornhill in the City.
The story of baking and the Holder family goes back to the 19th century. David's great-grandfather, Charlemagne Mayot, and his wife opened a small bakery in Croix, near Lille, in 1889. Nearly 30 years earlier in Paris, in 1862, the Ladurée family from France's south west opened a bakery at 16 rue Royale. The restaurant provided a haven for ladies who were not admitted to cafés in the late 19th century.
In 1935, the Mayots' daughter Suzanne married Julien Holder and they opened a bakery on rue des Sarrazins in Lille. In the 1950s, Julien's son Francis took over and bought a bakery called Paul on the Place de Strasbourg in Lille and the Holders took the name, developed the business and the rest is history.
Francis still runs the Holder Group with his youngest son, Maxime, running Paul and his eldest, David, in charge of Ladurée. David joined his father's business in 1989 working at Paul. In 1993, the Holders wolfed down the Ladurée business, buying it for a snip. It is the warm shades of mint and the gentle clink clink of the forks against expensive china in the Ladurée cafes that keep David busy today.
Ladurée's unique selling point is its macaron (in English, macaroon) – a small round cake, crisp on the outside and smooth ganache on the inside, in sweet pastel shades of green, pink and yellow.
Ladurée, along with a handful of other French patisseries such as Pierre Hermé, have put the French macaron on the culinary map. But Ladurée claims the title. The Ladurée family created the macaron in the early 20th century at its Parisian tea salon. Founder Louis Ernest Ladurée's second cousin Pierre Desfontaines came up with the idea and Ladurée became famous in Paris for the creation.
Sitting in Covent Garden, David says: "We are the inventors of the macaron. We are the first and, of course, the best. But we have to maintain this. If people like the macaron we have to still keep improving it. We have to keep being the best."
Holder hopes the macaron will become as well known as the croissant or the mille feuille. Ladurée already sells more than 10,000 macarons everyday in Britain. But for Holder, Ladurée isn't just about the cakes; like any businessman in consumer goods, the brand is as important as its products.
"I see it as more of a fashion collection. This is not just a patisserie. Our attention to detail – the packaging, the colours, the fragrances of the macarons. Everything we do is linked to the French lifestyle. Our customers do not just come for the food. They come to be part of the lifestyle."
Holder brought Ladurée to London through that emporium of luxury, Harrods, in 2005. A small takeaway café opened at the Burlington Arcade in 2007, but the two-level Covent Garden restaurant is part of Holder's vision of a network of restaurants in large cities across the globe.
Ladurée picked the location for the upmarket surroundings and the tourism footfall. Just as London will be the only location in the UK, in France it only has an appetite for Paris. But there are outposts in Geneva, Luxembourg, Milan, Brussels and Monte Carlo in Europe. Tokyo is also fashionable enough to have its own restaurant while Ladurée is producing macarons in Istanbul and the Middle East cities of Dubai, Kuwait and Beirut.
New York is also in its sights; in mid July it will open on Madison Avenue at 71st Street while a site in SoHo will follow next year and it is searching for a location in the trendy Meatpacking district for a Ladurée bar – repeating the success of one on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Conquering the Americas will not stop there. Beverly Hills and Miami could also get their own taste of the French fancies and South America and Canada are also in the pipeline. Sao Paulo in Brazil is likely to be on the list. To the east there are plans for China and Hong Kong too. Holder wants the best of both worlds when it comes to becoming a global chain. "I want to be the haute couture of patisserie. We want to roll out but we want to be exclusive." With all the talk of being the best, the exclusiveness, the luxury, how is a business based on expensive cakes expect to fare during recession or subdued economic times?
"The average spend here is around 20 euros but you can just spend five or 10 pounds and have a very nice time," says Holder. "Even in hard times, people will treat themselves to something nice for a few pounds and an enjoyable time. People might cut back in difficult times on big items but they will still spend on a gift or a tea."
Holder says the business has been growing well. He has doubled its turnover since 2008 and doubling again is his target for the next three years. The Holder company is private and it will not reveal profits, but its funding is firmly in place following a capital raising last year. The group raised ¤34.5m from a syndicate of seven banks and now has ¤100m to expand the business. It is 100 per cent owned by the family with its management owning a minority stake, and that is how the family wants it to stay.
The expansion will be a mixture of licences and franchise agreements. In the US and China, local partners are sought but various models across the globe are considered depending on "what is right for the location".Reuse content