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Panera Bread -- I like what I've seen. What do you think?

I've only been to Panera once or twice, but a new Panera has opened up in the Porter Square Shopping Center. I've like their soups and breads, haven't had much else. I tend not to support chains, but my understanding is that this one is local. What's the buzz?

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  1. Its headquarters are in Missouri....

    8 Replies
    1. re: LeoLioness

      And there are just under 1,500 in the country.

      1. re: manraysky

        You can't get more local than that.

        1. re: FoodDabbler

          I think I stand corrected! I wonder how I became so misinformed . . .

          1. re: somervilleoldtimer

            Speaking as one old-timer to another, the amount of incorrect information you pick up grows rapidly as you age. You start off as a youth knowing, as they say, everything. Gradually this knowledge is replaced by half-truths, damn lies, and statistics. If you're lucky, you'll know exactly nothing when you die. Most of us (myself included) will have entered negative territory long before.

            1. re: FoodDabbler

              Thanks, FoodDabbler - I needed a good laugh. Going to use this (if I remember that is, lol).

            2. re: somervilleoldtimer

              Actually, the top management work out of Boston or the Boston area. The chain got its start as St. Louis Bread, and has its corporate headquarters there. But, if I understand this correctly, the brains of the chain live in Boston.

              I disagree that the quality is poor. I've eaten at Panera all over the place and I'd say the quality is mostly OK, and occasionally subpar. As far as chains go, the place serves wholesome food, and you can buy really good bread there. I had a bowl of tomato soup there today for a late lunch, with a whole grain baguette. The soup is thick, richish and not too sweet. Their breakfasts have really improved in the last decade. I find their coffee good, especially the dark roast.

              The nice thing about Panera is that you'll have a total cross section of the community there at any one time. People bring their laptops and nurse coffee and dessert, or a meal, for a long time while they are online. Today I saw a gentleman sitting off to himself engrossed in a book. Some older teens came in as was finishing my soup. Often you see people doing business there.

              I truly wish I owned stock in the place. It occupies a unique niche among chain food outlets.

              The pastries are good too!

              1. re: sueatmo

                Wholesome? More like fast food crap disguised as wholesome through marketing.

                1. re: Gabatta

                  Well, it is certainly more wholesome that Hardees, McDonalds, and that ilk. The salads are better than most chain restaurant salads in my experience. The coffee is above average and almost always hot. They don't fry their food, bacon excepted. I can get an egg white sandwich on actual whole grain bread. (I request whole grain) I'm not sure how this sort of food is not wholesome. If you consider all of these examples unwholesome, then we just simply disagree.

      2. Definitely not local. Most of the stuff on the menu is miserable and overpriced, though I do admit to enjoying the BBQ Chicken Salad.

        10 Replies
        1. re: mkfisher

          Well. No. Most of the stuff on the menu is actually pretty good. The breads are better than the breads at my local bakery. The salads and sandwiches are fresh-tasting and made with care. Many of the soups are quite good. And my family enjoys most of the breakfast-type pastries and dessert-type pastries.

          "Miserable" seems a fairly harsh description.

          1. re: jmckee

            Depending on where you live you need to find a better bakery. I find Panera's breads uniformly flabby and uninteresting.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              StriperGuy, some areas of our country just don't have the bakeries we have here in the Boston area (and ours, in comparison to many other areas, could be better - but at least we have a choice). I do urge people, even if they only have a few in their area, to try to support those. I hate the way chains tend to squeeze out the little guy.

              The other thing I found out from my own experience (when I lived in a different part of the country where I didn't have the options I now have) is that, when you eat only at chains, your taste buds - well, they tend to get dumbed-down, lol. I honestly got used to food back then that now, when I taste it, I cannot believe I used to like it. (I will not, however, admit to posting a rosy review about a certain dismal, local bakery that produces horrid tasting sweets upon my immediate arrival back a few years ago... and giving other Chowhounds a bum steer!! Nope, not me....)

              I think it's comparable to people who are fortunate to live in a place where they can get the freshest local produce all or most of the year (grrr- I'm so jealous!!) - in comparison to our own four seasons market.

              1. re: threedogs

                Good point. I can get and grow a variety of produce year round, but I think we have one bakery, German, besides Panera's, within about 30 miles.I'm guessing 30 miles, but the one I know of is about 40 miles.

                1. re: Shrinkrap

                  Arrgghh!! I hate you! ;-) (no, not really - kidding here!)

                  If we had fewer bakeries (and places that sold delicious baked goods) and year round local produce instead, my hips would be considerably smaller, I think. Well, maybe not, since a good portion of said hips resulted from my home baked breads and pastries...

                2. re: threedogs

                  I've traveled pretty extensively in out of the way places in the U.S. If I lived there I'd probably bake my own bread. Heck, I do 2X a month in Boston.

                  But I'd never describe Panera as a decent bread bakery without qualifying that statement considerably along the lines of "good bread cause there's nothing else in these parts" etc, etc.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    Yeah, I bake - no, used to bake my own bread daily for a long time. Pizza was my go-to food, too. Only stopped because I needed to take the pounds off & I tend to not to limit my portions with those at home (and also because my large crew decreased, moving on to lives of their own). I did find out, though, when I lived in AZ that triple digit weather & baking bread just doesn't go together that well, even with an a/c. But then again, I really, really hate too much hot weather, so it was added torture for me.

                    We also had a shipment of Italian food shipped out from the Boston area because we couldn't find anything like our favorites out there (back then, at least). The shipping alone was astronomical - but oh, it was worth it! We missed our favorites so, so much.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Fortunately, for me at least, I am not a fan of "bread", or carbs in general. For me, a huge waste of volume, preventing me from consuming more flavor, if I indulge,. What's so strange is, husband and daughter prefer carbs; son and I ,not so much.
                      How does that poem go?

                      Jack sprat could eat no meat, his wife could eat no lean....something about licking something clean....I LOVE fava beans, sugar snaps, figs; I love pork belly!

                      Maybe it would be different if we had better bread, but I just peel it off.

                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                        "Fortunately, for me at least, I am not a fan of "bread", or carbs in general."

                        Do not comprehend... this is some foreign concept way beyond me.... ;-)

                3. re: jmckee

                  Im sorry about the lack of a halfway decent bakery near you

              2. I live in the Seattle area and there is a Panera a couple miles from my home.

                As far as chains go, it is my favorite as there are decent, relatively healthy & low-cal options. I tend to get soup and salad combinations when I eat there.

                I live in a town that is 90% chain restaurants and the remaining 10% are either very specific ethnic restos that don't appeal to a broad audience or are just okay. When I go out with friends locally, I know that it is most likely that I will end up in a chain restaurant so am happy to have something better than Shari's, Olive Garden, Red Robin, Old Country Buffet, etc.

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                Olive Garden
                8 Allstate Rd, Dorchester, MA 02125

                1. Not really 'local', no. I find most of their stuff to be bizarrely overpriced. Though there's few things more indulgent than their cinnamon crunch bagel with maple walnut cream cheese.

                  1. Here's the local connection -- quoted from the Panera's website:

                    Ron Shaich is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Panera Bread Company, where he previously served for over 25 years as the company's Chief Executive Officer. Shaich began his career in the bakery-cafe industry in 1981, when he opened a small cookie store in downtown Boston. Shortly thereafter, he combined his cookie store operations with a local bakery to co-found Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. In 1993, Shaich led Au Bon Pain's purchase of a 19-location bakery-cafe concept called Saint Louis Bread Company, which would become Panera Bread. Today, the Company operates or franchises over 1,450 locations in 40 states and Ontario, Canada. System-wide sales in 2010 exceeded $3 billion.

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                    Au Bon Pain Co
                    156 Church St, Pembroke, MA 02359

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Duster17

                      Shaich started ABP with Louis Kane (at the time in the healthcare business), who came up with tthe idea after seeing the bakery carts on the streets of Paris during a vacation. Began selling from a cart in Faneuil Hall. Or, something to that effect.
                      Enjoy,
                      CocoDan