(October 22, 2023) Nicolas Grossemy came to India for an internship, started a food truck business selling French-style sandwiches and is today the co-Founder of Paris Panini, a chain of deli style French cafés in Bengaluru
One of the most globally ubiquitous snacks or light meals would have to be the sandwich. Two slices of bread with a veritable who’s who of ingredients in between and voila, you can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Known as a panini in Italian, and le casse-croute in French, a sandwich in its protean avatars has many Indian variations too. In Bengaluru, Nicolas Grossemy began Le Casse Croute, a food truck serving up sandwiches with ingredients more associated with French cuisine. Business boomed, and the food truck became Paris Panini, a French-style cafe in Indiranagar. Today, Nicolas, who is the co-founder, oversees a chain of restaurants.
Made in India
He recalls how his tryst with sandwiches began in an exclusive with Global Indian. “I came to India in January 2014 for an internship while I was finishing my Master’s at Kedge Business School. Before coming here, I had worked in restaurants in France for about four years while studying, to make pocket money. But I ended up loving the industry and thought of starting something on my own during the internship itself. We (his earlier two French business partners) wanted to start a casual diner but we struggled to find a place, so decided to open a food truck instead, since it was a fairly new concept back in 2015.”
Nicolas is mostly self-taught and has not done any professional cooking courses though he has been cooking since a very young age. “I did work along with chefs in France that helped me build my knowledge in the kitchen as well as deepen my expertise in terms of French cooking,” he tells Global Indian.
Still, setting up a food truck in one of India’s busiest metropolises came with its fair share of obstacles – Parking, cops, staff, cranky residents etc. Nicolas admits that he faced many challenges from the start. He recalls, “The first challenge I faced was for all the modifications we wanted on the school van. We wasted four months as the guy took money from us and didn’t get anything done. After that, we moved the van to a different garage and that guy did a fantastic job,” says Nicolas. There weren’t many food trucks in the city then, so Nicolas and his team could simply park the truck and run the business without much trouble. Their problems began when lots of food trucks started operating. “Most people were just running the trucks to make money,” Nicolas recalls. “They had no passion or even experience.” These newly founded businesses would leave garbage at their parking spots, neglect hygiene standards and serve poor quality food. The image of food trucks took a beating, and neighbours’ associations began alerting cops about those operating without authorisation. “That’s when I realised that a food truck wasn’t a scalable business so I had to find another way to scale my concept.”
Street Food a la France
Nicolas’ food truck, called Le Casse-Croute, started operating in 2015. The standards he set were high. Nicolas says, “We had a base kitchen where we would prepare all the food and ingredients. Baking the bread freshly every day, which is part of the concept, would always happen in the morning before we started. I wanted to bring a gourmet street food experience with fresh ingredients cooked on a daily basis. Sourcing the ingredients was part of the process and it took some time to set, but it’s something I wouldn’t compromise on. Quality and freshness over everything. For example, even for the potato, we had to try dozens of different suppliers for our French fries. We needed a special grade of potato since we were doing our French fries in-house (peeling, cutting and double frying). Currently, we source a special grade of premium French fries that we serve with our much-loved homemade tomato ketchup.” All the ingredients are sourced locally.
Somewhere, the universe heard Nicolas and his desire to start a café. “AB and Nikhil came into the picture later when I met Nikhil at the gym. I explained to Nikhil that I was looking to raise funds to scale the concept and product. He quite liked the idea, so I met him, his brother and their executive chef from Pizza Bakery the next day and we started discussing our collaboration. Our concept was pretty simple, keep the same values which I used to build Le Casse-Croute, and make it into a brick-and-mortar format to give the experience of sitting in a French café as if you were in Paris. That’s the goal I had while running the food truck; I always wanted to build a café in Bengaluru that transports you to France just by its décor, food and ambience. We reworked the concept, the menu and design of the place, and we found the perfect place on 12th main road in Indiranagar, next to Pizza Bakery.”
Paris Panini was launched in November 2019 and to date sells essentially French street food, in French style cafés. The paninis all have different names and from prawns to pesto, bacon, devilled eggs, chicken, to mozzarella, aiolis, sun dried tomatoes, and a lot more, these gourmet sandwiches became so popular with the local crowd that they are now present in ten locations across the city.
The sandwiches come with names like Aime, Hugo, Jacques etc. given to each of the paninis. Nicolas reveals the logic behind it. “Yes, all our paninis have French names. They aren’t named after my family members (or exes as some customers assume) but all of them have a story. For example, the Franck panini got its name because it’s a protein-loaded panini and had spinach, and it refers to Popeye the sailor man. Patrick got this name because we literally launched this panini on St Patrick’s day. Jacques, our prawn and aioli panini, was inspired by Jacques Mayol from The Big Blue movie.” All paninis are well-liked though the menu now includes desserts and pastas; the most popular are the chicken paninis Hugo and Michel and the vegetarian Estelle and Laura.
Creating the menu too may have come with its challenges. Keeping local tastes in mind, consumer preferences and their own favourites alike, how did they strike the right balance of options? He says, “We took some classic combinations we have in France like chicken and mayo or ham and cheese and upgraded them a bit adding our touch to the recipes. But there were ingredients that were not necessarily getting the response we expected. If something is not moving, we try twisting the recipes a bit and if it doesn’t really change, we get rid of it and come up with new recipes. We have developed a lot in our vegetarian menu (even our vegan menu lately) and we have been getting a good response because it’s a unique product, with taste that you can’t experience anywhere else in Bengaluru.”
Everything is made from scratch including the sauces. Incredibly, their most popular dip is their homemade ketchup served with fries. Nicolas adds, “It is a traditional French recipe, it’s so fresh and tasty people keep asking for more.” And since everything is made in-house, they have expanded the brand to include a range of retail products that can be used at home like fresh basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes etc. They also serve their paninis with French old-style mustard and olive tapenade that are classics in French cuisine.
With success came expansion and in less than five years, not to forget the two years lost to Covid, Paris Panini today has seven dine-in and five delivery kitchens. What advice does he have for a foodpreneur looking to expand in a similar fashion? Nicolas says, “I’d say start small, see the response and from that grow your menu, improve the experience and your flow of operations. That way you have a lot more under your control and you can learn without taking too much of a risk.”
From giving the humble sandwich a gourmet status, and making French street food a hit in Bengaluru, Nicolas has a winning formula on his hands. Hopefully other cities too will get a chance to experience his food some day.