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French bakery cafe la Madeleine opens its first drive-thru

The chain’s CEO said the new design represents the future of the brand.
 la Madeleine drive thru
Photo courtesy of la Madeleine

Drive-thrus may be more associated with Big Macs than baguettes, but fast-casual chain la Madeleine is out to change that.

The French bakery cafe brand, which has been around since 1983, opened its first store with a drive-thru this week, a development the chain’s CEO said is essential to its future.

“If you want to stay in business, you just need to go there,” la Madeleine CEO Lionel Ladouceur said. “We really think this is the future of our brand.”

La Madeleine’s first new prototype opened in Addison, Texas, taking over a previously shuttered restaurant, with a pared-down, drive-thru-friendly menu and new store design.

“We needed a shorter menu because the typical la Madeleine menu is expansive,” he said.

So, the saute station is gone and the new menu focuses on sandwiches, premade salads and soups.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the drive-thru was in the works pre-pandemic as the chain looked for ways to boost convenience for customers and add efficiencies to operations.

“Nobody wants to wait 20 minutes for a sandwich or a salad anymore,” he said. “We have less equipment, and we can do it with less people.”

A number of fast casuals have blurred the lines with quick-service chains in recent months, rolling out new prototypes that feature drive-thrus. Many of the changes are motivated by shifting consumer behaviors amid the coronavirus crisis.

Shake Shack, for example, is slated to open its first drive-up window later this year in suburban Vernon Hills, Ill.

El Pollo Loco debuted two new restaurant designs, one of which includes a takeout window and dual drive-thru, but no dining room.

Typical la Madeleine units are around 5,000 square feet. The new prototype clocks in around 3,000 square feet and includes windows around the drive-thru so customers can watch bread being made onsite.

“That has always been a very strong statement for la Madeleine,” Ladouceur said. “If you look in France, you have thousands of bakeries with drive-thrus or pickup windows. It’s really something we needed to do.”

La Madeleine, which is operated by the French company Groupe Le Duff, has nearly 90 locations in nine states. With the new prototype, the brand is looking to expand into new trade areas, he said.

In its first few days, about 50% of business is going through the drive-thru, Ladouceur noted.

“Even if the brand was not known for having a drive-thru, it seems to be catching on pretty fast … The big legacy stores like we have, we’ll keep them,” he said. “But this is not the future. We prefer having a lower investment [option] that can help us go into different markets.”

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