For the typical American, Parisian-and by extension French- food is distinguishable for its refinement.
The Michelin restaurants, the ripe-aged cheeses and wines the picture-perfect sunsets...
More than anything else, however, "French food", from the vantage point of elite-minded/Francophile Americans trumps lamericanisme for its supposed intimacy, the custom-ordered, freshly-made, mom-and-pop structure that characterizes the boulangerie, brasserie and charcuterie.
Thus, one of California's Michelin-ranked restaurants styles itself Chez Pannise (Pannise's place) and prides itself on its "natural" ingredients.
The Belgian-owned Le Pain Quotidien ("the daily bread") charges the price of a sit-down meal for whole-grain bread loaves baked biologique and for sandwiches that can be enjoyed on the hard-wooden chairs that mimic a streetside café.
Numerous bistros, galleries and other places similarly seek to evoke a "Frenchness" that is wholesome in cuisine, intimate in character and conducive to a neighborly Joie de Vivre.
Contrast with a place like Costco or McDonalds. Mass-produced, artificial, cold and corporate.
As a liberal, upper-middle-class Angelino, I once bought into the hope of a food industry reconstructed on the Parisian corner store.
That was, until I visited Paris.
Even the most ordinary of residential streets in the outermost arroindossment (like the one which I'm staying on) has its boulangeries churning out fresh baugettes at 3pm, pharmacies with the flashing "green cross," a tabac for cigarettes and lottery tickets, and a family-owned café.
Fromageries sell cheese, boucheries (often halal) for meat, charcuteries for smoked meat (usually pork)...
For anything else, one can go to the supermarket, but with the exception of certain department stores (e.g. Champs-Elysee, Galeries Lafayette), these are small enough to fit into a neighborhood storefront as well.
Family ownership means some good things. Though baguettes here vary in quality but none that I have tried so far has the gumminess that one finds all too commonly in their American counterparts.
Pharmacists attempt to give all of their customers the most precise prescription. Butchers and even grocery store owners make a point to walk you through their "laid-out" wares.
Unfortunately, they also expect you to buy something, to the point where you are supposed to look in a store's window to determine product's worthiness before deciding whether or not to shop.
More problematically, all of these small shop owners (and store managers) cannot engage in their task 24/7. Within the city of Paris, 95% of stores close before 9pm (no late dinners) and nearly all close in Monday. ( for more on French shopping hours see: http://www.francethisway.com/wp/shopping/2006/03/)
And in July, they must take turns doing vacation (so one of my favorite ones closes :( )
The flaw of the French model of small business, however may be exhibited on the outskirts of Paris, where Carrefour hypermarkets do limited consolidation a la Americaine.
In short, maybe we need big business in a world of economic modernity.