Despite pledges by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was president to address economic and social inequality after a series of violent riots in 2005 and 2007, though, critics say little has changed.
That is why a new generation of people like Mr. Benamer are trying to turn the suburbs into incubators for entrepreneurs, who see using their own initiative as the only way up and out of the banlieues, which are home to an estimated 10 percent of France’s 63.7 million people.
Through persistent lobbying, banlieue entrepreneurs have been founding “angel” investment funds, persuading big French companies like AXA Insurance and BNP Paribas to contribute seed money that fuel start-ups ranging from trash removal to taxi fleets. It was one such fund that recently helped finance the national expansion of Mr. Benamer’s Eat Sushi chain.
No one can yet quantify the new businesses emerging from this movement, or measure its success. But the activity is occurring largely outside the sphere of the French state.
“If we wait for the government to do something, people will just remain stuck,” Mr. Benamer said. “If we want things to improve, we have to do it ourselves.”
As part of the self-help effort, banlieue-based organizations that promote ethnic diversity have been aggressive about placing minorities into mentoring and jobs programs at French companies that as little as a decade ago routinely rejected applicants with non-French names.
“Things are changing,” said Majid El Jarroudi, a consultant of Moroccan origin, who grew up in the Paris banlieue of Montreuil.
Mr. Jarroudi, 36, started his career operating a small restaurant. He founded an organization, Adive, to assist banlieue entrepreneurs after visiting the United States and marveling at how much easier it seemed for minorities to move ahead.
Attitudes have shifted slowly in France, he said, but these days, “there is a growing recognition that the banlieues should not be seen as a place to fear, but as a source of dynamism, full of people who are eager to work and to succeed.”