Nothing can come between a Frenchman and his bread – not even a career in London. Joanne Grew meets David Belhassen, the man who brought the Paul brand to the UK

You can take the man out of France, but you can't take France out of the man. When David Belhassen moved to London in 1995 to pursue a career in finance, he missed the freshly baked Viennoiserie of his native Paris so much he hatched a plan to bring it to the UK. Fifteen years later, Paul is firmly established as one of London's foremost patisserie chains, with turnover set to top £25m in 2010, up from £20m last year.

In 2000, Belhassen persuaded the owners of France's biggest patisserie chain, who were family friends, to branch out into the UK. But at first the intrinsically French concept failed to resonate with British consumers and by 2005 the two stores in Covent Garden and Marylebone High Street were not performing as well as hoped.

It was then that Belhassen offered to take over the management of the UK business. Running the UK arm independently from its French sister allowed him to tweak the model to make it appeal more to food-to-go shoppers. "Consumers here have more of a take-home approach," he explains. "Many nip in then eat at their desks, whereas in France, they will take an hour and a half to sit down, socialise and enjoy their lunch. Therefore we offer a smaller range of bread than in France and more sandwiches."

Paul's offer of French favourites such as cakes, bread, coffee, croissants, sweets, spreads and sandwiches is "sophisticated but competitively priced", he says. "I thought consumers would go for real food no pre-packed fattening bread that is full of preservatives. I thought they would go for finer patisserie such as croissants, rather than brownies, and they did."

The move has paid off. Paul now boasts 24 UK outlets, all in London. Key products such as flour, ham, cheese, walnuts and olives are imported from France, while fresh items including eggs and tomatoes are UK-sourced. The 25-strong range of bread is one of the freshest in London, claims Belhassen, because it is baked three times a day at a central London hub.

Certain French characteristics have survived the hop across the Channel. Belhassen insists staff are not merely till ringers but specialists in their area. "People just pick up a sandwich at our competitors, such as Pret A Manger, but our products are served over the counter, so our staff need in-depth product knowledge. If you don't have the right staff behind the counter, then customers won't come back, no matter how good the offering."

To maintain custom during the downturn, Belhassen launched a loyalty scheme similar to those run by coffee franchises. Customers are given a card that is stamped every time they buy a sandwich. Once they have bought four, they get the fifth free.

Having got London hooked on authentic French patisserie, he now has a new ambition. "I could operate 50 to 60 outlets in London, then I will look elsewhere." Cambridge, Guildford, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester are all on his hit list as he aims to build the brand outside of London.

Selling briochette to Yorkshiremen may sound like a tall order, but Belhassen is no stranger to cultural leaps of faith.