La Madeleine Country French Café Entry in Arkansas Serendipitous

La Madeleine Country French Café Entry in Arkansas Serendipitous

Jacob Chi, head of Chi Development Co., spent a few minutes with us last week discussing the Chi family’s latest venture: the Arkansas locations of La Madeleine Country French Café.

The first site in the state opened April 20 in west Little Rock, but it won’t be the last. The family has an agreement to open five locations of the French-inspired fast-casual restaurant chain in Arkansas and southwest Missouri.

The Chis, who had been enamored of La Madeleine, based in Dallas, for years, got the chance to bring the restaurants to Arkansas almost by accident.

“We’ve been chasing La Madeleine as a family to try to see if there’s a way to develop property to get La Madeleine to come to town, and over the years just have been repeatedly told ‘That’s not a market that we’re considering right now,’” Chi said.

“Two to three years ago, we got wind that La Madeleine was franchising, and we did everything that we could do humanly possible to be engaged as part of that process. So we were probably one of the first franchisees that spoke with the development group that was setting up franchising with the brand, and so we’ve been working on it for a very long time.”

Groupe Le Duff, a global bakery and restaurant company based in France, owns Le Duff America, which operates the company’s North American restaurant chains, including La Madeleine and Mimi’s Café. Le Madeleine announced in 2011 that it planned to start franchising. “We just happened to be in the right place at the right time on the internet,” Chi said.

The family is looking at four locations in central Arkansas for store No. 2, but there’s no timeline, Chi said. He expects one or two additional sites in central Arkansas, with the rest in northwest Arkansas or Missouri.

Arkansas diners have warmly welcomed La Madeleine, Chi said, with responses “far and above our expectations.”