From small-time Missouri chain to almost 2000 bakery-cafes in 46 states, Panera bakes more loaves of fresh bread every day than any other fast casual restaurant in the country. Curl up with your soup in a bread bowl (we assume it’s broccoli cheddar) and enjoy the following facts about the not half-baked company.
1. IT WASN'T ALWAYS PANERA BREAD.
The founders of the company first started Au Bon Pain. Au Bon Pain then bought Saint Louis Bread Company (which was only about 20 stores at the time) with the intention of growing the concept outside the St. Louis area under the name Panera. Eventually, it grew too much and the owners sold their Au Bon Pain franchise to focus exclusively on growing Panera.
2. AND SOME LOCATIONS STILL AREN’T CALLED PANERA BREAD.
In the St. Louis area, where the company is headquartered, Panera retains its original name of Saint Louis Bread Company.
3. YOU MIGHT BE EATING AT A PANERA AND NOT REALIZE IT.
The company owns a chain of bakery-cafes in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, and Illinois called Paradise Bakery. The menu of Paradise is almost the same as the standard Panera menu, but this “Giant Cookie” is definitely something we would like to have as an option when choosing from the Panera You Pick Two menu.
4. THE FOOD DEVELOPMENT STAFF TAKES A TWICE-YEARLY RETREAT TO THE ADIRONDACKS TO TRY OUT NEW DISHES.
Most of the items on the menu came from the company’s chefs and bakers trying to win their own Panera version of Top Chef. Staff meetings also start with the team members literally breaking bread together.
5. DURING THE COMPANY’S PERIOD OF RAPID EXPANSION, A NEW PANERA OPENED EVERY FIVE DAYS.
In the early 2000s, the company was on a roll. The combination of fresh food and an atmosphere that encouraged customers to linger after they were finished eating was a hit with consumers. In 2009, the company was expanding at a rate of 31.5 percent each year.
6. THE COMPANY REALLY LOVES BREAD.
With a company mission of “A loaf of bread in every arm,” it makes sense that the company trains all its bakers to make the best loaf of bread they can. Fresh dough is delivered daily to every franchise from 23 facilities across the country via 212 delivery trucks.
7. THE CUSTOMERS LOVE THE BREAD TOO.
8. BUT PANERA REALLY HATES ANTIBIOTICS.
According to John Taylor, a member of Panera’s food team, the company tasted 30 varieties of chicken before selecting an antibiotic-free variety to serve in its stores. This year, the company (along with Chipotle) was given an A ranking with regards to their policies of sourcing antibiotic-free ingredients.
9. IT WAS THE FIRST NATIONAL CHAIN TO POST CALORIE INFORMATION IN ITS STORES.
magazine named Panera the healthiest fast-food restaurant in the country in 2009. Proving it deserved such recognition, the company announced it would start including the calorie information of all menu items in its stores in 2010.
10. THE COMPANY WAS ONCE THE LARGEST PROVIDER OF FREE WI-FI IN THE COUNTRY.
Panera took a gamble that ended up paying off when it decided to not charge its customers for use of the Internet. Sales increased by 15 percent after the introduction, and in 2012, 2.7 million users connected to Panera Wi-Fi each month.
11. ALL OF THOSE LEFTOVER BAGELS AND BREAD LOAVES ARE GIVEN AWAY.
Panera franchises donate the baked goods that remain on their shelves at the end of day through a program they call Day-End Dough-Nation. The company estimated that the retail value of the amount of bread they gave away in 2013 was approximately $100 million.
12. SOME OF ITS CAFES DO NOT HAVE PRICES.
In 2010, Panera opened the first of its Panera Cares Community Cafes in Clayton, Mo. Unlike the other franchises, the cafe operates on a pay-what-you-can system. The menu items are listed with suggested donations, which the company estimates 60 percent of the customers pay. With some leaving more and some leaving less, the locations (there are now four) typical bring in 70-75 percent of what a cafe with strict prices would make.
13. AND SOME WILL ACCEPT PAYMENT THAT ISN'T MONEY.
As part of the Panera Cares guidelines, if a customer is able to pay the suggestion donation (retail price) for his or her meal, the customer is asked to do so. But if someone is unable to pay for a meal at the time, he or she can volunteer for an hour a week at the cafe to earn a voucher for a free meal.
14. PANERA WASN’T SCARED BY THE ATKINS DIET.
While Panera eventually added a semi-secret low carb menu, the company’s annual letter to stockholders from 2004, during the height of the Atkins craze, only exudes confidence. “Throughout the quick rise and ultimate decline in popularity that characterized the low-carb trend in 2004, Panera Bread remained true to our roots and our artisan bread foundation,” it stated. “A company with 'bread' in its name could have expected far worse from the Atkins effect.”
Images courtesy of Panera.