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September 26, 2011

Love It or Not, Panera Bread Has Arrived

Photo In a city where eating local is close to a religion, the opening of Vermont's first Panera bakery-café this morning — smack in the midst of Church Street — probably evoked something close to a collective groan.

At least, you might like to think so. By 11 a.m., though, dozens of people had already made their way across an outdoor patio festooned with balloons, past a clutch of managers and a flickering gas fireplace, to form a line at the bakery counter. Judging from the casual certainty with which some ordered their choices — a cinnamon-crumb coffee cake, for instance, or a spaceship-shaped pumpkin "muffie" — many Burlingtonians are pretty familiar with the chain already. They may know it either from traveling or from having lived in some other American exurb where Panera is a popular — and sometimes the only — place to fortify oneself with "quick-casual" fare while feeding off free Wi-Fi.

In the Upper Valley, for instance, practically every coffee shop (including those in Hanover, N.H., the most uncollegiate of college towns) closes by 6 p.m, rendering Panera the only place to nurse coffee and your computer after dusk. It's always bustling.

Vermont's first Panera was one of three to open today (the other two were in Syracuse, N.Y., and California). '"It seems strange we were never in Vermont before,” says district manager David Almond, who moved here to help open the store and has had fun exploring local restaurants with his wife, Julie. “[The chain] sells a lot of Vermont products.” Including, he says, the Vermont white cheddar atop Panera's mac-and-cheese, though neither he nor a person at corporate HQ knew specifically where that cheese comes from.

The arrival of the 120-seat Church Street café enabled some longtime Panera employees to transfer back their home turf, adds Almond. How does he think the chain’s baked goods will fare in the bustling local baking scene? “I think we’ll fit in well. Plus, we’ve given 60 people jobs," he says.

The chain has nearly 1500 locations in 41 states and is undergoing a seemingly frenetic expansion toward its stated mission of placing "a loaf of bread in every arm." Another location is under construction in Rutland, due to open late this year or early next. Whether you like it or not, Panera is here to stay.

" (Hanover, N.H., the most uncollegiate of college towns) "
How much crack are you smoking, or have you not been to Hanover in the last 30 years? Hanover is little more than the address for Dartmouth College, one of the most expensive private colleges in the nation. What identity, beyond Dartmouth, does Hanover have anymore?

And so is, starbucks and macy's and the gap and banana republic and on and on. Burlington is far from special. Get over yourselves.

Hanover is an Appalachian Trail town and home to the Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, as well as Hypertherm.

It's really a shame that the owners of this space refused to lease it to any of the local businesses that were lined up, checkbooks in hand.

Could care less about the localness or lack thereof of Panera (remember, going from Old Navy to mostly OGE/a little Panera is still a big net gain, localvores). I just find this kind of an odd choice. Panera is great in its usual locales, i.e. suburban strip malls where it's the only alternative to chicken nuggets, but here? What's the point of a fake hipster bakery/coffeeshop when there are 12 real hipster bakery/coffeshops within a half-mile radius? Especially when the food isn't as good and roughly the same price?

Then again, people still line up out the door for Starbucks when Uncommon Grounds is right across the street. Panera doesn't serve "venti"-sized sandwiches, do they?

From Panera's Site:

"Fresh Dough Manufacturing Facilities

With unparalleled teamwork, expertise and the finest ingredients, our fresh dough manufacturing facilities located across the country produce the finest dough and drive many miles to deliver it to your neighborhood bakery-cafe where we bake all of our amazing products fresh from the oven each and every day."

Good luck up against established local bakeries who, crazy thought, actually produce their own organically certified bread from scratch right here in Chittenden County, some even using locally grown and milled flour.

Here's something to ponder: I wonder how much GMO-flour and other GMO-ingredients go into Panera's offerings? Hmmmm.

Just what CHurch Street needs: another $10.00 sandwich.

WHy is there so much publicity around a chain bakery arriving in town? 7 Days, the BFP - all heralding it's arrival. Not sure I understand the importance of this "story".

At least we have that great VT institution Ben and Jerry's - oh wait, sorry, I mean Burton - oh wait, sorry - I mean...

certainly don't understand the media's need to publicize this new "big box chain" in a small spot when we have so many local (and better, in my opinion) options trying to make it in burlington. perhaps they're just aware of who might have the most advertising bucks available!

Does anyone know why Panera was allowed by P+Z to put their sign on the front of the building when OGE was refused?

I second SIGNOBSERVER's sentiment: that was the 1st thing I thought of when I saw the photo! Outdoor Gear Exchange, who has been in Burlington for years, has to fight to get their sign, which was okay for Cherry Street but not Church Street.

It's the Borders effect again; the city changed zoning just so they could move in. That worked out well - oh that's right, the company went bankrupt.

I personally was verry diss appointed in the grand opening of the Panera Bread on Church St in Burlington Vermont. I was excited about being the first paying customer @ 6AM Mon morning but the employees and management did not seem as enthused as I was. I stayed there for several hours mainly to try different food items and use my laptop. Well their Free wi-fi was not working so they suggested I sit in a certain booth to pick up Starbucks AT&T wi-fi.
The 2nd sandwich I ate was the Premium Signature steak on french baguette, when i ate 1/2 the sandwich I noticed that my top front tooth was chipped I assume from the hard bread. The waitress came and took the 2nd 1/2 away after telling her that I chipped my tooth and she asked me if I wanted another sandwich, I said NO and asked to speak with a manager who then after a while came over to me and filled out an incident report and took a picture of my tooth. when I was leaving the Panera bread I spoke with Tom Kelleher the Joint Venture Partner at Panera Bread and I was not assured that they would cover the cost of fixing my chipped tooth, he basically just wanted to know if there was a foreign object in the sandwich. I talked on the phone after several phone calls with the risk manager @ the corporate office and he asked me the same thing which I told him no,the risk manager @ Panera Bread Corporate office stated it normally takes 3-5 days for a response from them. I am not feeling to positive of them paying for my tooth to be fixed and the brief incident they wrote and picture of my tooth was basically to cover themselves.

John, of course they aren't going to pay to fix your tooth. You freely admit you aren't even sure it was chipped there, and that there was no foreign object in the bread.

"my top front tooth was chipped I ASSUME from the hard bread"

You really expect someone to believe that you chipped your tooth on bread? With no foreign object in it? What's to stop you from walking in there with a chipped tooth, eating HALF the sandwich and then make something up? Why would you eat half if the sandwhich if the bread was so freaking hard that it was breaking your teeth?

I wouldn't fix your tooth if it were me...

@ JCARTER do you work for panera? your comment seems to be the only one in favor of the company out of all posts on here.

My comment isn't in favor of them? How in the world could you possibly come to that conclusion? I say nothing about the company other then they would be foolish to pay for your chipped tooth without any proof or reason and somehow that makes me in favor of them?

FOr the record, no I don't work for them, never been in one of their establishments, have never eaten anything that has been made in one of their establishments nor will.

I do however think the outcry over a business moving to the area and providing people with jobs because they aren't "local" is just plain ignorant and elitist.

Just what Church Street needs: a $10.00 sandwich with a broken tooth in it.


Why in the world would Panera Bread want a picture of my chipped tooth? maybe in case they found something on the plate that had the other half of the sandwich the waitress took away from my table without even asking me.

Just be careful with Panera. At least several years ago, they were notorious for sneaking meat into items that seemed vegetarian. For instance all of their soups were made with chicken stock, even something like Cheddar Broccoli. You can check ingredients online I think. Hope they've changed so no one else gets tricked, but I won't be going there.

"Oh no, they are not local so they are evil". I wonder if the employees that now have a job will think that way...

"Does anyone know why Panera was allowed by P+Z to put their sign on the front of the building when OGE was refused?"

Because it's not over the 14 foot limit, as OGE's would have been. Scandal!

"oh that's right, the company went bankrupt."

Yeah, practically the day they moved in. Or ten years later, whatever.

This thread cracks me up. Panera will do great in that spot, and probably have market research that tells them so. That might be a foreign concept in a town where no one bats an eye when a telecom company spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars without a business plan, but it often actually works.

Actually, the sign issue is pretty interesting. I went back and looked at the post during the OGE debacle (

Burlington planning rejected OGE's sign because 1.) it was more than 14 feet off the ground (the door sign, NOT the tower sign), 2.) the sign above the glass canopy looks out of place, and 3.) it didn't fit in with the building's architecture.

Seems to me that the Panera sign also violates all three of these conditions, as well. Am I missing something?

Who wanted to go into the space? If some of you get so annoyed when a business you don't like moves into Burlington you should just go away! And take your pork bellies and fois gras with you.

I also wondered about the sign. The OGE was hanging up there just a few days ago, so I thought the city acquiesced. It was smaller than the Panera sign. I don't get it?

I just don't like Panera's food. it's like subway but for soup and pastries. I used to live in an area that had them, so i've tried it, and it's gross.

As a former travelling sales rep in the Midwest, I ate at Panera 3 or 4 times. Although a better choice than Wendy's or a truck stop, I always felt bloated and gross after my vegetarian soup, bread, and sometimes salad. Their food is pretty gross and loaded with salt (and who knows what else!). With so many creative and motivated local entrepreneurs, why Panera? Why do we want to look like any other ordinary US town? Church Street will soon look like a soccer mom strip mall at this rate...

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