Panera Bread Company is a chain of bakery-café fast-casual restaurants found throughout the U.S. and Canada. What many do not know is that it was the first of its kind – the first upscale bakery-café, at a time when the only the fastest, most convenient restaurants dominated the market. Since it was first opened 35 years ago, Panera has grown from one tiny cookie store into a company with over 2000 bakery-cafes and annual sales of over $5 billion.
Panera Bread has transformed a great deal over the years – from a cookie shop, to a French bakery, to a French bakery-café, to the first national fast-casual restaurant, to what it is today – a beloved, successful restaurant that sells 100% clean food – with no antibiotics, no trans fats, no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives. As Panera’s slogan and founder puts it, it’s “Food as it should be.”
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Why is it Called Panera Bread?
Panera’s founder Ron Shaich was a Harvard MBA graduate. Upon finishing school, he moved away and worked for a large company for a few years, then returned to Boston to open a small cookie store called The Cookie Jar. He asked his father for an advance on his small inheritance and invested all of it to start the store.
Ron realized that thousands and thousands of people walked by his little shop every morning, but no one would go inside and buy any cookies until noon. To fix that problem, he became a licensee of Au Bon Pain, who supplied him French pastries. Au Bon Pain was also going through a rough patch – they once had 13 stores open and were then down to only three. Ron decided to merge his cookie store with Au Bon Pain in 1981 and took 60% interest in the company.
Ron noticed that customers would come into his shops, ask for French baguettes sliced long-ways, then put cuts of meat from the local deli in between. Ron and his partner Louis Kane saw huge potential there, and decided to depart from being a bakery that sold croissants and bread and become a “bakery-café” that used quality croissants and bread as a platform for selling great sandwiches. In 1984, they created the French bakery-café concept, and it became very successful.
Ron then acquired 19-unit Saint Louis Bread Company in 1993. He discovered that price, time and convenience weren’t all that mattered when people ate out, so he created the new “fast-casual” niche restaurant, and quickly realized they’d need a new name. As founder Ron Shaich himself put it, “As we started to move outside of St. Louis, we learned that people identified St. Louis with Clydesdale horses and beer, and that Saint Louis Bread Company probably wasn’t the name we wanted to take to Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine.”
So, they renamed the restaurant Panera, which means “bread basket” in Latin. Panera Bread means Bread Basket Bread. Pretty redundant. Though the name has a definite meaning, the founder doesn’t say that’s the reason they chose the name when asked. He said, “We made it up. I don’t have a cousin Joey Panera. […] We wanted a name that was an empty vessel we could put personality into, and that’s how we ended up with Panera.”
Founder Ron Shaich behind the counter of Panera Bread. Image from www.forbes.com
Ron Shaich sold all Au Bon Pain Co Inc. Divisions so he could focus all time and talents to growing Panera. It certainly paid off. The company went public in 1999, and it’s outperformed the restaurant industry and even the S&P 500 ever since. Panera only went private last year, when it was sold to German conglomerate JAB for a whopping $7.5 billion. Shortly afterwards, it was also announced that Panera Bread would acquire Au Bon Pain, reuniting the two 18 years after their separation.
Which do you think is better – Au Bon Pain or Panera? Did you already know the Latin meaning of Panera? Let us know in the comments!
Emma Roberts is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about learning, traveling, and language. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Brigham Young University.