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Panera Bread Cafes: Winning Over Patrons One Loaf at a Time

by Patricia Schaefer

When American author and writer Henry Miller said, "You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread," this was before the Panera Bread legacy began. In fact, Miller died in 1980, one year before Louis Kane and Ron Shaich founded Au Bon Pain Co., Inc., Panera's predecessor.

Ask anyone who's frequented a Panera bakery-café what they think about it's bread, and they may just respond as Angela Cataldo did when she visited her local East Northport, Long Island café: "You get a big hunk of their bread with just about everything that you order. You tell yourself, I'm only going to eat half. But before you know it, the whole hunk is gone. It's crusty on the outside, soft on the inside -- just delicious."

Today, there are more than 850 Panera Bread bakery-cafes in the U.S. delivering fresh, authentic artisan bread. Menus include freshly baked breads and bagels, soufflés, soups, sandwiches, hand-tossed salads, pastries and sweets. Cataldo claims, "Everything is so fresh and tasty, but not salty like some restaurant foods. Their dressings are delicious also; they taste homemade."

Panera spokesperson Mark Crowley says, "Panera Bread bakery-cafes showcase the art and craft of bread making, helping customers become true bread connoisseurs through learning to identify a great loaf of bread by studying its crust, crumb and craft. With the single goal of making great bread broadly available to consumers across America, Panera Bread freshly bakes more bread each day than any bakery-café concept in the country."

First and foremost, Crowley says Panera Bread takes pride in providing the freshest, highest-quality artisan bread to customers at their locations nationwide. "By baking our bread from scratch on site everyday, we ensure the highest quality product for our customers. In addition, Panera Bread takes pride in the inviting environment that we provide our customers -- with everything ranging from comfortable seating to free WiFi Internet access to fireplace gathering areas."

Crowley credits Panera's franchise success to their franchisees: "Panera Bread's franchise success can be attributed to the fact that we partner with the highest quality operators who have proven industry experience. In addition, our franchise partners are passionate about the Panera Bread brand." In fact, one of the requirements for prospective franchisees is "a passion for fresh bread."

Unlike many other franchises, Panera does not sell single-unit franchises, so it is not possible to open just one bakery-café. "Rather, we have chosen to develop by selling market areas which require the franchise developer to open a number of units," says Crowley, "typically 15 bakery-cafes in a period of six years." Hence the Panera Bread franchise is not for those prospective franchisees seeking to invest in a low-cost franchise. Applicants must meet certain criteria which include possessing a net worth of 7.5 million, liquid assets of $3 million, and successful experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator.

This unique expansion strategy seems to have worked well for Panera Bread. Since 1999, the company's stock has grown thirteen-fold and over $1 billion in shareholder value has been created. As of this writing and according to Crowley, Panera Bread has 877 bakery-cafes, 566 franchised and 3ll company-operated, in 36 states throughout the United States. Their projection for 2006 is 150 to 160 openings, and their expansion "will encompass multiple regions in the U.S., not one specific area." Their two-page "2005 Best-of Awards" list shows their breads, bakery, bagels, soups, salads and sandwiches as Number 1 winners throughout the country.

Since the dawn of civilization, bread has been one of the principle food staples of man. Bread symbolisms are diverse, deep rooted and many. It can feed us, unite us and comfort us, to name a few. The trade of the baker is one of the oldest and respected crafts in the world. Inspired by the vision of baking the best, handcrafted artisan breads in America, Panera Bread prides itself on bringing the warmth and care of the neighborhood bakery to people across the country. "Bread and all it symbolizes are the foundation of everything we do."

Copyright 2006, Attard Communications, Inc.

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