Pret A Manger is a big part of my life. A big part of Bryan’s life. And a phenom in its own right. Is there any other British chain you can think of that was able to pierce the U.S. consumer market? I know Topshop is getting its start and you probably have an ersatz English pub near you called The Cock and Lion or something, but seriously. PRET!
It struck me as a telling coincidence that I ate Pret long before moving to these chilly shores. There happened to be one almost below the building I worked in at Madison and 41st in East Midtown Manhattan. I was always happy to peruse the endless-seeming rows of varying sandwich and wrap combinations, secure in the inner knowledge that, in the end, I would of course choose the egg salad.
When I started two years ago in a building near Holborn Viaduct in the City of London, I felt a higher power must be easing me gently into the British cuisine by guaranteeing a Pret just outside the front door.
Imagine my surprise that all the sandwiches were different. No turkey sandwiches. No ham really (if you’re hungry for ham, go to a restaurant and order a “gammon steak” – how gross does that sound?). The BLTs can’t be guaranteed to have streaky bacon and apparently tuna fish should never be paired without “sweetcorn” (aka corn kernels). Cheese is topped with chutney and pickles I think. My heart drops a little even at the hard-boiled egg variety. The homeland of Pret sells them as “egg & cress” and I can barely stomach them. And smothering it all to death: mayo. Possibly the most loved food product by the British after deep fried fish. Mmm and Mmm.
But I still love Pret. Luckily hummus travels international borders and the soups are still good on a cold day. Their food is is sourced from ethical and sustainable means and everything is made fresh daily. The company clearly has a conscience (even with McDonald’s as a major shareholder) – my favorite recent example being the little signs on every register/till that explain that they are required to charge VAT (tax) for anyone that eats in. The header and footer of the sign say simply: “Nightmare.”
Mostly, the chain has me at its branding/visual advert campaign. Clever slogans and quips and messages brought to life by food art. Thanks to Jorgen Ahlstrom.