When it comes to seamlessly combining eating well with fast-casual dining, Panera Bread knows how to deliver. The chain famous for serving up to-die-for bread bowls and actually tasty salads also has a number of wholesome factoids hiding up its bakers' sleeves. Whether spearheading the calorie-count movement, or offering affordable (and healthy) eating options to lower-income areas, here are ten tidbits you need to know about the beloved bakery.
1. It Was Originally Called St. Louis Bread
Back in the '80s, Panera Bread was no more than a humble little Missouri-based bread chain named St. Louis Bread Co.. That is, until the same guys who founded Au Bon Pain in 1981 eventually bought up those shops and transformed them into the trusty Panera we know and love today. The 50+ stores in the St. Louis area will always carry the emblem that started it all—they're still called St. Louis Bread Co. (or just "Bread Co." by regulars).
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2. Au Bon Pain and Paradise Bakery & Café are Basically Just Panera in Disguise
If you've ever eaten at these pseudo-bistros, you'll probably enjoy Panera: Ron Shaich and Louis Kane founded Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. in the '80s and both Au Bon Pain and St. Louis Bread Co. lived under the umbrella for nearly two decades. It wasn't until 1999, when Shaich sold off Au Bon Pain to focus on expanding Panera, that the two became separate entities. Panera Bread then bought up Paradise Bakery & Café, which still operates under its original name in several locations.
3. The Word Panera Means Bread Bowl
Well, sort of. The Spanish word literally translates to bread basket or bread box, so it all depends on how you interpret it. But considering the chain is famous for its bread bowls, it seems obvious what the intended meaning is.
4. You Can't Find Panera in Every State
Though it has expanded a lot since its early St. Louis days, Panera still isn't available in a sad few states: If you live in Montana or Wyoming you'll have to travel elsewhere to get your fill of seasonal salads, Chocolate Chippers and Chicken & Rice Soup. Lucky residents of Washington D.C. and parts of Canada can take advantage, however.
5. They Have 2,000 Locations
After the chain shed Au Bon Pain in 1999, it completely blew up. What started out as just 20 shops in the St. Louis area became nearly 2,000 locations in just a decade. In 2009 alone, the store expanded by more than 30 percent, meaning a new location was unveiled almost every five days. Not to mention that the company did this all while maintaining quality and customer commitment. It even went on to be named the #1 most innovative company by Fast Company in 2015 and opened its 2,000th bakery-café in March 2016.
6. Stores Play Classical Music at All Times
If Beethoven isn't your jam, then Panera might not be the place for you. The cafe is notorious for only pumping the classical beats. So if you were hoping for some jazz, you might be better off kicking it at Starbucks.
7. At Some Locations, You Don't Have to Pay
Yes, you read that right: A handful of locations in lower-income areas operate on a "pay-what-you-can" system. At these shops, or Panera Cares Community Cafes as they're called, the menu lists suggested donations, but accepts whatever you can afford. Panera estimates that about 60 percent of customers usually pay that amount or more, and that these stores tend to bring in 70 to 75 percent of the profits of a normal store.
8. It Was The First National Chain to List Calorie Counts
Before McDonald's started shilling kale salad, Panera led the healthy eating revolution by doing something that's now considered commonplace: It was the first to start listing calorie counts on menus. In addition to that, it also removed all artificial trans fats from the menu in 2005 and completely eliminated artificial ingredients from its ingredients in January 2017. Their soup menu is officially free of artificial additives, though it took over 60 tries to make the Broccoli Cheddar Soup 'clean'!
9. Panera Is Dedicated To Providing Safe Meat and Poultry
With outbreaks of salmonella, norovirus and E. coli at chains like Chipotle, customers are more and more particular about where their food comes from and what happens to it before it reaches their plates. Panera was a pioneer when it comes to offering antibiotic-free meat, becoming the first national restaurant company to offer chicken raised without antibiotics at scale (one reason why the Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad was such a hit!). 100% of the restaurant's pork is antibiotic-free, all chicken and roasted turkey is antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed, and 89% of its beef is free range and grass-fed. All eggs will be cage-free by 2020.
10. All That Delicious Bread is Baked Fresh Daily
Panera employs over 6,000 bakers who make more than 250 million bagels and 50 million baguettes each year. Every night, fresh dough is delivered to all Panera locations from Fresh Dough Facilities across the country. So their bread is about as fresh as it gets.
11. Their Extra Baked Goods Don't Go To Waste
As for the loaves that don't get sold, they're all donated to charity. Items only sit on shelves in-store for a single day, but thanks to the Day-End Dough-Nation program, any remaining breads, bagels, muffins and pastries are boxed up and delivered to community hunger relief organizations.
12. They Offer Free Coffee Refills
Actually they offer free refills on all beverages (with a few exceptions). In fact, there are tons of Panera menu hacks, including extra free ingredients (ahem, avocado), 99 cent pastries, and more.
13. There's a Secret Menu With Tons of Healthy Options
Unlike at Starbucks, where your request for an off-menu item might be met with a confused stare, Panera's hidden menu is something that all staff know about. In addition the advertised healthy menu items, you can order lesser-known items like a Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl or a Power Steak Lettuce Wrap.
14. You Never Have To Wait In Line At Panera Again
Panera 2.0 has introduced lots of high-tech elements to the restaurant experience for customer convenience. Rapid Pick-Up lets you place your order online or on your phone (up to two weeks ahead of time!) and pick up your food from a special shelf without waiting in line. At most locations, you can even place your order via a touch-screen tablet platform. Oh, and delivery is now in the works.
15. You can make your favorite Panera dishes at home
If you've ever been hit with a broccoli cheddar soup craving at midnight when Panera isn't open, then you'll love that the brand is putting out a line of 50 grocery store items called Panera At Home. Which means you can have the bakery's French baguettes, ciabatta bread, macaroni and cheese, and creamy tomato soup on deck in your pantry at all times.