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Whether you are looking for a quick breakfast on the go or a business lunch, Panera Bread is the go to of choice.
With over 1,200 stores in 40 restaurants Panera is growing in popularity with good reason. Panera bakes more bread on a daily basis than any other bakery café in the country. Made with all natural ingredients, organic products when possible, Panera bread is perhaps the freshest commercial bread that you can buy.
I visited my local Panera Bread and visited with the general manager and the bakery training specialist. I learned a lot about the company that surprised me.
History of Panera Bread
The company began on the East Coast in 1981 as Au Bon Pain Bread Company. The company prospered and in 1993 purchased St. Louis Bread Company, effectively spreading to the Midwest with the acquisition of 20 stores. Eventually these two companies became Panera Bread.
In 2006 Panera was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the 100 Hot Growth Companies, and the stock (PNRA) was recognized as top performing, with excellent returns to shareholders.
The company’s mission statement is: A loaf of bread in every arm®
Panera Bread Bakery and Café
Each store has bakers that bake the bread fresh every night. They begin at 11:00 p.m. and bake through until 6:00 a.m. the next morning, when the store opens. The dough is mixed at a central dough facility which handles the dough for an area and then quickly delivered to the individual bakeries.
At that point the dough is put aside to proof. The dough that is delivered in the morning is the dough that will be baked that night. Stan Sears, Bakery Training Specialist in the Dallas area said emphatically, “Everything is fresh. Nothing is frozen. “
Walking in to the café before it opened, on a chilly January morning, I was greeted by a fire in the fireplace and the aroma of baking bread wafting through the entire store. I was greeted warmly and encouraged to ask questions and look around.
Working for Panera Bread
Bakers are trained for five weeks. Before they are allowed to bake on their own they are evaluated by the Bakery Training Specialist. They must complete a full night’s baking during the evaluation without any input from their trainer.
In order to become a baker the person must receive a certain number of points. They are then evaluated on a regular basis and must maintain a base level.
The day bakers do not have as extensive of a training as the night bakers do. They do not have the amount of baking that is required of the night bakers.
The Panera employees that I talked to were enthusiastic about their jobs. Stan laughed and said that he likes his job so much he has been known to come in a couple of hours early to chat. This is a company that seems to genuinely care about its employees and treat them as valuable assets.
Although Panera has not been known for its coffee, that could be changing. Recently the company decided to revamp its coffees to match the quality of its breads.
I have been cupping and reviewing coffee for a number of years and the coffee that I had at Panera was easily equal to any national coffee shop and better than most. The coffee beans that they are using are roasted at a small company in Tyler, Texas called Distant Lands. Although the coffee is not certified organic, Distant Lands is committed to sustainable coffee raised without herbicides or pesticides.
The coffee is labeled with the source and the time when it is put out. I enjoyed several cups of the dark roast, brewed from beans that were 100% El Indio from Tarrazu. The cup was smooth and rich, with wine characteristics. The flavor was caramel. Sweet and smoky; very complex. There was no scorched after-taste that is sometimes apparent in a dark roast.
Panera Bread Bakery and Cafes also make lattes and espresso based coffee drinks for those customers that want them.
European Style Breads and Menu Items
The bread is perfect. No matter what you try, from the buttery rich Pecan Braid to the slightly spicy Jalapeno Cheddar bagel you will be impressed with the fresh, homemade flavor and artisan quality of the breads.
Breakfast could be a bagel, fresh and chewy, or a pecan granola atop organic vanilla yogurt and strawberries. If you like breakfast sandwiches try the ciabatta with Vermont white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, and free range fried eggs. The egg soufflés in croissant crusts are light, creamy, and delicious.
Choose from soups or sandwiches, salads or a little cookie treat for lunch or tea. There are a number of possibilities.
Panera offers more than great food and excellent coffee. It also offers:
- Free wifi
- Comfortable seating
- Quiet atmosphere
- Excellent menu
- Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
- Affordable pricing
Copycat Panera Bread Broccoli Soup Recipe
- 2 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 cups half-and-half
- 4 cups chicken stock or bouillon
- 1 pound fresh broccoli
- 2 cups carrots, julienned (or coarsely grated)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 lb sharp Vermont white cheddar, grated, save some for garnish
- 1 teaspoon Dijon
- A few drops of hot sauce
- Sauté onion in butter. Set aside.
- Cook melted butter and flour using a whisk over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Stirring constantly, slowly add the half-and-half.
- Add the chicken stock, whisking constantly.
- Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the broccoli, carrots and onions.
- Cook over low heat for 20-25 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Pour the thickened soup in batches into blender and puree.
- Return to pot over low heat, stir in the mustard and hot sauce.
- Add the grated cheese; stir until well blended.
- Stir in the nutmeg and serve garnished with more cheese.