Artyom Khachatryan on “bringing” PAUL to Armenia and Galaxy’s development plans

27.12.2022 | 22:30 Home / News / Interviews /
At 08:01 in the morning, at the crack of dawn, the smell of freshly baked croissants and coffee spreads on Abovyan Street in Yerevan: this is how PAUL café shop welcomes the first guests of the day.

PAUL, which has a history of 133 years, is located in a colorful Yerevan building built in 1884. This is a story within a story that has become a reality as a result of the activity of Galaxy Group of Companies.

We spoke with Artyom Khachatryan, co-founder of Galaxy, co-chairman of the Board of Directors, who manages the group’s hotel, service and sales department, about the entry of “Art de Vivre” or the French art of living and the prestigious global brand to post-war Armenia.

How the day starts at PAUL

The day at PAUL begins at 3 a.m. when the first oven is turned on. At 08:01, freshly baked croissants, bread, and pastries must already be on the counter. With a decades-old tradition, the work at PAUL is organized in three shifts.

The flagship café shop is designed in a way that it can serve 5 more cafés. The first PAUL in Yerevan, seemingly small from the outside, has many “secret” corners: separate kitchens for making croissants and main dishes, storage rooms, a refrigerator section, and “kingdom of bread” on the ground floor, where each dough matures in the conditions it needs. It is a fantastic culture of different flavors and aromas.

A tasty “black” brand and a meeting on a narrow street in Paris

The decision to bring PAUL to Armenia was based on personal experience. While traveling, we often encountered the “black” brand in airports, railway stations and many corners of cities. First we fell in love with its coffee and croissants, and knowing its more than a century-long history, we also loved the culture it formed.

PAUL was founded in 1889 in the north of France by the Mayot family. Today, it is run by the fifth generation of its creators. The founders of PAUL made a number of changes to the bread  baking process: they started to use bread dough kneading machines. As a result of the First World War, many young people lost their hands and to knead bread dough, a new solution had to be thought of, which was done at PAUL. They were also the first to mature the dough to make the bread lighter.

These stories inspired us even more and we wrote the first letter to the founders. In the letter we told who we are, we said that we are interested in PAUL and want to present it in Armenia. They liked our story too and agreed to meet. My brother and I went to the meeting.

We expected to be called to a large factory, but the address they gave led us to PAUL café on a narrow, colorful street in Paris. It was early morning, we took a croissant and coffee and went up to the office, which was on the upper floor of the café. It was a small space where all were in robes. There was no classic office environment and it was obvious that the people there were doing different work. The impression was that we entered a family that has its own unique life and culture.

The meeting was very warm, we signed the first memorandum of cooperation and it seemed to us that it was it, but 5 years passed from that point to the opening of PAUL in Yerevan (smiles – auth.). We did not expect it to be such a difficult process: the choice of the area was very important, the import of a number of products from France, then discussions, pandemic, war, until we reached the point when Yerevan PAUL became a reality.

The same croissant in different corners of the world

Proper staff training plays an important role in the process of opening PAUL. Four directions are particularly important: “pastry-chef”, who mainly deals with pastries, “bread-chef”, whose area of responsibility is bread, chef, who controls everything related to the kitchen, and the operations manager of the hall, whose main task is follow the window. It should be constantly refreshed not only for “cross selling”, but also for providing an opportunity to grab a fresh croissant or bread on the way home or to work.

Artyom Khachatryan

The managers of these four directions of Yerevan PAUL were trained in France for several months before the opening, worked in different local PAUL branches, small and large, in the city center and in the suburbs, to understand the uniqueness of each café shop.

A month before the opening, the French specialists came to Armenia and monitored the process on the ground. For a month we worked in a “test mode” without customers. Every morning at 03:00 the ovens were turned on, the croissants and bread were baked and at exactly 08:00 they were placed on the window. This is the way we worked until PAUL’s leadership’s approval: “everything is in accordance with the accepted standards, you can open.”

PAUL’s ideology is that their croissants everywhere should be the same as they are in France, have the same appearance, quality and price.

Late riser Yerevan and the mix of Armenian-French approaches

At Galaxy we attach great importance to research and before launching a new project, we study the market to understand who the main players are. We have a tradition: before starting a business, we must be able to write on the blackboard ten differences from other players in the industry, if we do not find them, we do not start.

We want not to simply build a well-operating business, but make the lives of our customers better, set new standards. In the case of PAUL, it is “Art de Vivre” or the French art of living, which we tried to adapt to the Armenian market. The “grap and go” approach is still not very popular among Armenian customers, that is why we divided the Yerevan PAUL hall into two parts. In the first part, everything is fast: have a coffee, eat a croissant and go, in the second part everything is “slower”, here you can have lunch or dine with your family.

One of PAUL’s features is the opportunity to have breakfast or coffee early in the morning. There are not many places in Yerevan that open early. In general, we wake up late, while in Europe many people even have business meetings at 8 a.m. I think this culture is gradually being formed in Yerevan as well. Especially in hot weather, I notice that people come quite early, have coffee and breakfast.

The preparatory work for the opening of PAUL took so long due to the need to combine the expectations of the Armenian customer and the accepted French model. In the case of a café, the Armenian customer expects service, so we had to add service to the French model of “see, grab and go” and do it in a way that would not affect the quality of the presented meals. I think it worked.

PAUL located in the Yerevan building of the same age

As I already said, the location of the café shop was of crucial importance for us. Together with our French colleagues, we walked through all the central parts of the city, observed the Cascade, Saryan. We wanted PAUL to open in a place that has a history. As a result, we chose the old Yerevan building at 8 Abovyan Street, which was built in 1884 and belonged to merchant Barsegh Yeghiazaryan. The building and PAUL are almost of the same age. Barsegh Yeghiazaryan’s descendants later used it for charitable purposes, there was a hospital on the upper floor, and during the Soviet years it was the residence of the Communist Party secretaries.

Artyom Khachatryan

A great deal has been done in terms of building maintenance. The repair lasted two years. I am very grateful to the team of architects, they paid attention to every detail. Everyone worked very carefully not to damage the facade of the building. I think that our architecture should not only be preserved, but also properly accentuated. The history of the building inspired the founders of PAUL as well.

So, this is the way we merged the Armenian and Yerevan history with the great French history.

French baguette, Armenian “bread sharing” and PAUL in the regions

Bread is one of the important and common components of Armenian and French culture. A person holding a baguette is immediately associated with France. Many types of bread are sold in every corner of Paris. Bread is a very significant symbol for Armenians. In common language we refer to eating as “eat bread”, we “share bread” with someone, and if we want to negatively refer to a person, we say “he was a man without sault and bread” (ungrateful-auth.). In Armenia from generations to generations the traditional lavash is baked, in France it is the baguette. I think that Armenians and French have always been inspired by each other’s culture. Of course, Charles Aznavour and the Armenian community in France played a big role here. With this in mind, Galaxy will continue to represent French business in Armenia. We have signed several memorandums of cooperation, there will be important news soon and we are especially grateful to the French side for their warm cooperation.

In the near future the second PAUL café shop will open in Yerevan Mall. In general, we plan to have 4-5 cafés in the capital, after which we will head to the regions: Gyumri, Dilijan, Tsakhkadzor. I think especially in the case of Gyumri we will have an interesting cultural project. We are very excited about this idea.

Difficulties and responsibility

Difficulties make us stronger and more flexible. Yes, today the situation in Armenia and Artsakh is hard, but this is exactly why we should not stop. We must work, the economy must be viable, we must create jobs and provide opportunities for our country.

Currently, more than 2,200 people work at Galaxy and we have a responsibility to them. One of the ways to confront the situation is to bring new projects to Armenia. I love our country very much, my children – my two daughters and my son – are growing up here in my hometown. I want them, looking at us, to see that they should stay, work and find solutions in their own country.

Yana Shakhramanyan  

Photos by Emin Aristakesyan
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