A good decade before Starbucks came to France, there was Columbus Café. You may have seen one of the dozen locations around central Paris with their window of muffins and posters advertising free WiFi. They might look like a North American chain, but aside from the inspiration of American espresso bars, Columbus Café is a French company, opened in 1994 by Ralph Hababou and Philippe Bloch. They chose the name "Columbus" for Christopher Columbus and his representation of the New World's coffee and Italian savoir-faire of coffee-making. The bear in the logo...no idea where that comes from. In any case, the brand has positioned itself as a very "multicultural" one, and even the slogan on their site "Take time for yourself" is in English.
It took a few years for the idea to take off. I the beginning there were china coffee cups and more espresso drinks than coffee drinks. Now there are only paper cups (5 ounce, 8 ounce and 12 ounce cups, and recently a 16 ounce cup added), and well more coffee drinks than espresso drinks. The number of muffins has also expanded over the years to about two dozen flavors, and I'll admit it's hard to resist them when walking by the café in the Marais (at rue Vielle du Temple). You can add caramel or vanilla flavor, substitute soy for regular milk, and yes, hang out in the café to check your email on the free Wifi network. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I do like their soy chai lattes, and you can get fresh squeezed orange juice (which is still not the case in all Parisian cafés).
Not that I'm encouraging everyone to go to Columbus Café. At the end of the day, a chain is a chain, and encouraging people to eat mass-made muffins and drink from disposable coffee cups isn't exactly healthy or ecologically sound. But if you're dying for a Starbucks fix, at least at Columbus Café you can support a French company instead of a foreign one (and if you're really gung ho, you can even open your own Columbus Café franchise). Who ever said the French don't have a word for entrepreneur? ;-)
Main Paris locations:
12 rue Brise Miche, 4th
Open daily 10am-10pm.
4 bis place Sainte-Opportune, 1st
Open Mon-Sat 9am-8:30pm
25 rue Vielle du Temple, 4th
Open daily 8am-7pm
21 rue Soufflot, 5th
Open weekdays 7:30am-7:30pm, weekends 9am-8pm.
81 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th
Open daily 8am-7:30pm
74 avenue des Champs-Elysées, Galerie du Clarigde, 8th
Open Mon-Sat 10am-midnight, Sun noon-midnight.
Also at Gare de Lyon, Gare du Montparnasse, and Italie 2 Centre Commerciale. Other locations throughout France, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Quatar.