After months of anticipation, it’s finally here. Panera Bread opened its Richmond Highway location on Monday. By noon, it was packed.
“It’s been steady all day,” said Lyndsey Mirmelstein, neighborhood marketing coordinator. There were no pre-opening parties; the mere presence of the “Open” sign was enough to draw people in.
“There’s not much like us around this area. It will give people a new place to hang out,” Mirmelstein said. “We’re just so excited to be open.”
Nora Rudd was also glad to see it open. “It’s nice to have on Route 1,” she said. “It’s a step above some other places.”
While Rudd had not been to other locations of Panera Bread, many of the other customers had been. Mindy LaBruno, jazzercise instructor, said, “I love Panera. It is my favorite place to eat. My husband and I actually eat there several times a week, and we are glad they have one on Route 1. It is our favorite place to go and relax on a Saturday night, or even a Sunday morning. They have great bagels. My favorite of course is the Pick Two Combo. You can get a sandwich and soup, or soup and salad, or any other combo. I can't eat a whole sandwich, and we have tried just about all of them. The food is great and very reasonable. I particularly love the house lattes, especially when I am not feeling well. I believe the mixture of spices and honey always make me feel better.”
TAVIAH AND CZARINA, who were there with their children, Binta and Cody, said that they frequent the Kingstowne location. Charlene Pineda and Alex Tanh had also been to other locations of Panera Bread. Pineda’s favorite is the bacon turkey bravo; while Tanh likes the turkey artichoke sandwich. The first is a cold sandwich served on tomato basil bread, and the other is served hot on basil pesto focaccia.
These are just a couple of the delightful combinations put together by Panera, and perhaps one of the reasons why it’s so popular. Another reason may be the cozy setting. Central to the decor of newer Panera Bread locations is a fireplace in the middle of the restaurant.
“It’s our cozy corner,” Mirmelstein said. “People can relax and stay here as long as they like.”
Mirmelstein also said that Panera is big on community outreach. Each restaurant has a community bulletin board, and all leftover food is donated to local charities. Panera donates generously to local organizations, as well. On Monday morning, Mirmelstein took baskets of bagels and other goodies around to several schools, businesses and the South County Government Center.
“It’s all word of mouth,” Mirmelstein said. “Already I’ve seen people who received our baskets this morning and have come in to see us.”
New to Panera is a line of low-carb menu items and a new chicken Caesar salad sandwich. They’ve also released a cookbook, “The Panera Bread Cookbook.” Look for outdoor seating in the warmer weather.