Starbucks takes on café society in Paris

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The Independent Online

When Disney arrived with its theme park they called it a cultural Chernobyl. Many Parisians will view as an even bigger disaster the opening today of the city's first branch of Starbucks.

Six years after it served up the first decaf cappucino in Europe, the Seattle-based global coffee giant is ready to take on the nation that invented café society.

The first tall, skinny latte served in a paper cup with the distinctive green and white logo will be sold this morning when the new Starbucks premises on Avenue de l'Opéra opens its doors. Pains au chocolat and croissants will be available to ease the culture shock.

Another branch will follow next week in La Défense, and after that, who knows? Les Deux Magots and Café Flore, left bank favourites of Sartre and Beckett, are probably safe.

But Starbucks branches have mushroomed on the high streets of London (Britain was the chain's first market in Europe and it now has 400 branches in the UK) and the company opens an average of three outlets a day worldwide.

Despite the global success, purists are predicting that in France, where ordering an express (often consumed with a cigarette) is a sacred tradition, the brand will flop. Bernard Quartier, spokesman for the organisation that represents French café owners said: "I don't believe this concept is going to work because nothing can replace the conviviality and sociability of the French café."

The "strict no-smoking environment and friendly service" promised by the company will certainly be unusual. Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz is playing down expectations. "We are not entitled to success in France," he said. "We are taking the long view."