HOME > Chowhound > Chains >


Panera Bread

I just learned that one of their stores is moving into my neighborhood. I've looked at their on-line menu and it seems like a good addition. Any strong opinions about the quality of their bread, sandwiches or drinks?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Panera began life as St. Louis Bread Co., with stores located only in St. Louis. Later they spread across Missouri, then to other places, under the Panera name. My daughter, who went to college in St. Louis, liked Bread Co. very much as a place to have some coffee or a light lunch while she studied or just hung out. I've eaten at a couple of the Panera stores around LA (Santa Monica and Westchester), and found both serviceable. I like their soups, and their bread is more than OK -- not La Brea Bakery, but pretty good.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ozhead

      Panera did not begin life as St. Louis Breadco. They purchased St. Louis Bread co.
      They began life as Au Bon Pain Co-

      From their web site-

      Our History
      The Panera Bread legacy began in 1981 as Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. Founded by Louis Kane and Ron Shaich, the company prospered along the east coast of the United States and internationally throughout the 1980s and 1990s and became the dominant operator within the bakery-cafe category.

      In 1993, Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. purchased Saint Louis Bread Company, a chain of 20 bakery-cafes located in the St. Louis area.

      You are not the first person to say they began as St. Louis Breadco. I am not sure why people have that impression.


      1. re: FriendOfTheDevil

        Maybe because the St. Louis Bread Co. locations converted to Panera locations:

        "The company then managed a comprehensive re-staging of Saint Louis Bread Co. Between 1993 and 1997 average unit volumes increased by 75%. Ultimately the concept's name was changed to Panera Bread."

        Au Bon Pain locations remains in their original form.

        1. re: ferret

          Au Bon Pain is also a separate company after 1999 and was taken over by its management in 2005. http://www.aubonpain.com/aboutus/ The original company took the new name Panera instead. It's a weird history, really, since what happened was it seems in a nutshell: ABP bought St Louis Bread, essentially decided that the basis of the St Louis Bread concept was better suited for big expansion than their own original ABP concept, and went forward with that purchased concept as Panera while leaving ABP as it was and eventually divesting it. Panera does have about 4x as many locations these days, but the concepts seem similar apart from how the service goes. Panera is a behind the counter fast casual ordering with checkout at the beginning; ABP has gone to quite a lot of self service in most locations, with checkout after you pick up everything (even if you get something made from behind the counter).

          I've grown tired of Panera, only been a couple times in the last few years. I still go to ABP occasionally as there's one near the office. In our area (Pittsburgh). corporate-owned ABPs are only downtown and Paneras are almost exclusively in the suburbs (zero in the main biz district, a couple in the university area).

    2. panera is for those folks who don't mind partially hydrogenated oils (i.e. transfats) to be an ingredient in baked goods.

      3 Replies
      1. re: westsidegal

        That's not at all true:


        If you pull up the various nutritional pdfs on their website you'll see zero trans fats in all but some dairy products. Definitely not in their baked goods.

        1. re: ferret

          good to hear bc i was starting to get upset, i love their sourdough but was certainly not going to continue my obsession if it was all packed with random garbage

          1. re: ferret

            when they first opened in westchester, i asked at the store for their ingredient information. transfat was in much of their stuff at the time.
            according to the article you've cited they removed the transfat later on.

            it's interesting to me that they didn't post anything in their stores about the removal of the transfat.

            thanks for the valuable information!

        2. It's absolutely nothing special but good in a clutch. There's a Panera and a Baja Fresh next to my office and I always find myself going to Baja when I'm hungry and have no plans.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ExtraCheesePlease

            I would ditto the reply above. I like the concept, but it seems the execution is just mediocre.

          2. I really like their new breakfast sandwiches. The way they cook their egg and the vermont white cheddar just does it for me. Their other food items are decent, better than a lot of fast food but not as good as some.

            1 Reply
            1. re: RobynS

              Ditto on the breakfast sandwich - it's a much better Egg McMuffin. Their other offerings are pretty good.

            2. I moved from New York to Florida in 2003 and have been unable to duplicate New York bread - Panera is one of the best in Florida compared to what else is offered. Their sandwiches and salads are pretty good overall.

              3 Replies
              1. re: annemarie07

                I actually love their baguette. However, I cannot stomach their sanwiches and find them overpriced to boot. I forgot what it was called but the vegetarian sammi that was supposed to have hummus had the tiniest shmeer that it was almost nonexistent. I've had a "turkey" sandwich that tasted like processed turkey- the kind you'd find at subway. Blech. Their soups- nothing special,; usually oversalted and underspiced. Their salads- the plate first of all is annoying; I can never mix the salad properly because it keeps spilling over the sides. The salads are ok- but again, nothing memorable.

                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                  I'm not vegetarian by any means, but I really do like the veggie sandwich at Panera. It could use a little more hummus, but I still find it fresh and satisfying when I am looking for a light lunch, which is fairly often when working outdoors in South Florida heat all summer.

                2. re: annemarie07

                  Anne Marie,
                  Another ex-NYer now living on the the space coast that thinks what passes as Rye bread down here is a sad, cruel joke!

                3. their bread and soups are good, but their sandwiches lack variety, the tuna is too sweet and they don't carry enough vegetarian options in sandwich varieties.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: smartie

                    I've never checked the nutritional data, but every time I eat one of their sandwiches, a couple hours later I have a blood sugar spike, or drop, or whatever that thing is where you get lightheaded, weak and feel extremely hungry. This suggests to me that all or at least most of their food is loaded with added sugar. I hate when that happens, because I want to know (and enjoy!) when I'm eating a ton of sugar--in the form of a pastry, dessert or candy bar.

                  2. I really like their asiago cheese bread and bagels. And I like their passionfruit iced tea.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                      I'll see your asiago demi-baguette and bagels, and raise you the 3-cheese demi-baguette, which is also reason to go to Panera. Other than that, the breads are run-of-the-mill, pastries look better than they are. I like that they put sprouts and red onion on sandwiches, and though I like their tuna salad, think that mustard (which is automatic on sandwiches unless you say nay) has no place in THAT sandwich.

                      1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                        I love the asiago cheese breads too....

                      2. Many years ago, this was a halfway decent chain. No more. Their salads are soggy and limp, their soups overly salty, and their sandwiches laden with more fat than you can imagine. None of it tastes good. Stay away!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: pikawicca

                          "None of it tastes good" is painting with a pretty broad brush and your generalizations are a little over the top. There's one near my office and we visit every now and then and I can't agree with any of your statements.

                          1. re: ferret

                            I agree ferret -- and usually I agree with pikawicca. Almost EVERY fast/casual chain has food loaded with fat and salt. These two ingredients send you away feeling full, and that is their goal. It is up to us as individuals to say "hold the cheese and mayo" and control what we consume. You can eat light and healthy at Panera, and just about anywhere else, if you choose wisely.

                            Personally, I like Panera -- there is one near my office, and a co-worker's wife works there, so she will often deliver to us and when she does, she adds a few of those big cookies at no charge. Their food is fresh, the breads are basically pretty good, and some day I will try a salad -- Im too easily swayed towards the sandwiches.

                            1. re: Cheflambo

                              I recently found a gentleman's wallet in a parking lot, contacted him, and returned it. In appreciation, he sent me a gift certificate. Against my better judgment, my husband and I went for lunch. Neither of us could eat what we ordered. As before, the lettuce in the salads was turning brown and there was way too much dressing. The soup was just incredibly over-salted. Maybe there are some locations that do a better job.

                          2. re: pikawicca

                            I agree 100% and such small portions too.

                            I had to attend a breakfast meeting with a client there last week (he sells them coffee). I ordered an egg and meat sandwich that cost $5, there was a third of a slice of cheese (1.25 inches by 2 inches). When I inquired as to the partial slice of cheese, I was informed that it was correct, they cut the cheese slices in three before making sanwiches.

                            My host was mad as hell. Panera requires that coffee times be posted on the pots and not be more than one hour old. We were there at 9:25 and the freshest coffee was made at 7:40.

                            This was the Shelton, CT location.

                            Bad help, bad food, small portions, high prices.

                            Only redeeming feature, free WIFI with ample tables and electrical outlets. You can buy a coffee, sit and work for two hours (their limit) and keep refilling your coffee at no charge.

                          3. I really like Panera. It gets a bad rap a lot of the time but it's really quite good.

                            No this is not a great sandwich but it is a damned fine one.


                            1. i love their turkey artichoke panini.

                              1. I'm most fond of their salads. Their summer feature salads (Chicken Cobb this summer) are usually pretty good. Some of the bread is great, some just so/so. It's an excellent lunch spot though, quick, something decent, and if you hold dressing/customize, not too bad for you.

                                1. I have sort of a love/hate thing going on with Panera. I find that lunch is on the pricey side if you want a salad or sandwich, so I'm usually a soup girl. I do enjoy many of their soups - my current favorite being French Onion. For a "fast food" type place, I think it's done fairly well.

                                  Stay away from the lemonade or frozen lemonade - the latter being nothing more than a glorified Slurpee for $3+ bucks.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: toopickytobeafoodie

                                    If you customize their sandwiches/salads (and stay away from the ultra carby bread options), it can be fairly healthy. However, those soups have so much salt in them!

                                  2. Panera is a great lunch or quick/light dinner spot. I usually get the pick-two option and lately my choices are the forest mushroom and cobb salad or the forest mushroom and turkey bacon bravo sandwich. I think they are a little overpriced, but although I love a burger joint, its not practical or healthy to eat that way when you don't have time to cook. I also like thier breakfast bakes. The spinach artichoke has the best flavor! Have yet to try a breakfast sandwich, they look small and not that filling. They have yummy danishes and the cobblestone muffins are like a dessert. The hidden gem of this place though is the cinna crunch bagel. If you know that is what your going to get (its a good at any time of the day...its just soooo good) you should buy your own cream cheese though, bc at Panera it's like 2.99 in my area. The bagel is delish with the cheese, but also very good with just some butter.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cookieluvntasha

                                      If you're concerned about healthfulness--which I'd assume means food relatively high in protein and fiber, low in sugars, simple carbs and fat--then it might be a good idea to check Panera's nutrition information on your favorites. I don't know if it's easily available online, since I quit eating there a year or two ago. They used to have it in the store in a big, three-ring notebook you can ask to look at.

                                    2. I like their breads,...closest thing I've found to my homemade breads and a good (though pricey) substitute when I'm too busy to bake a loaf..
                                      Some of the salads are interesting. I'm not all that crazy about their sandwiches even though they are not terrible . The soups are a different story...by and large pretty pedestrian, salty, often overthickened and starchy.. and I've learned to stay away from them completely.

                                      1. I personally love Panera. I never had anything there I didn't like. It's a bit pricey sometimes though. I usually order the half salad half soup half sandwich deal in which I get "baked potato soup" and a caesar salad. The salad is usually fresh and crispy and the soup is always hot. I always get the baguette with it too. As for the sandwiches, they're good, but I like the panainis there. You know how they give your the pager that buzzes when your foods ready? Well the last 3 times I've been to my local one, it didn't buzz and I just went up there and got my food, hoping it was there (it was). I did tell them it didn't buzz, obviously they don't care. Then I eat the soup and I feel better hahaha, anyone have a recipe for that?