Dear Pret a Manger,
There’s something I’ve been keeping to myself for a while now, quite possibly since the first time we met, about seven years ago. But after our last rendezvous – during which one of your cashiers complimented my dress, and offered me a free ice tea – I just need to make my feelings clear.
In a nutshell, you are the bomb, Pret a Manger.
Your beautiful, subtle branding. Your streamlined, perfect packaging. Your delicious, fresh sandwiches. Your friendly, conversational voice. Your warm, down-to-Earth, happy staff. Your simple “M.O.”: Pret creates handmade, natural food, avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today.
The first time I visited one of your stores was in a London Tube station, seven years ago. How could a tiny convenience store be so good-looking, and feature fresh, tasty food to boot? This was something I hadn’t experienced in America, and I was floored. Yes, I’ll have a Prawn Sandwich! Yes, I’ll have a Fresh Lemonade! Yes, I’ll have a Yogurt Pot! Yes, I’ll have a Love Bar!
While all your items looked terrific in their streamlined, bare bones packaging, I braced for the way they would actually taste. To my surprise, your food was actually good. Damn good. And fresh. It was love at first bite.
One day a few months later, I was meeting a friend who worked near Macy’s. “Wanna have lunch at Pret?” she asked.
Pret? My Pret? In America?
“There’s one around the corner,” she said. We went, and it was just as good as the one in the London Tube station.
Which is why I was shocked when America didn’t fall in love with you as instantly as I did. Every time I mentioned your stores to friends, they either hadn’t heard of you or hadn’t tried you yet. How could they not be seduced in the same way I was, I wondered? Was I blowing things out of proportion?
It turns out that Americans – and particularly New Yorkers, who are used to food made at a counter, in the model of the archetypal New York delicatessen – weren’t ready for the idea of pre-packaged food. In recent years, however, “the company educated the American consumer on the value of its freshly prepared food, which is made in on-site kitchens before being boxed and displayed,” according to Clive Schlee, Pret’s chief executive. It also changed its product mix, increasing the number of soups it sells and focusing on filter coffee rather than more elaborate drink options for which customers have to wait on line. They’ve even dropped the “a Manger” on the name – perhaps because it is too exotic, or confusing? – and now go by the more minimalist “Pret.” Mr. Schlee admitted that the chain’s story wasn’t right for the US consumer, but since they’ve adjusted the model, they’ve been met with success.
That success was evident during two different visits I made to new Pret stores, one in Union Square and the other on West 23rd Street, not far from CBX. In them, the vibe was festive, the employees were happy, and people were practically fighting to get to your fresh salads and sandwiches.
So now, apparently, the secret is out, my beloved Pret. But hopefully our relationship will remain the same, and you will continue to feel “prêt a moi” – made for me.