Panera in Connecticut: State of Flux

If you’re looking for a Panera location in Connecticut, check twice before you head out for a sandwich.  There may be a new location opening nearby, or the locale you’re familiar with may have already closed its doors. The churn at Panera may not be unusual, but it did come as an unwelcome surprise to regulars at the Newtown location when it abruptly closed in mid-November, with a sign on the door saying farewell (and please visit other locations.)   And later this month, the long-time location in Darien will be closing.

The Darien store has been renting 3,754-square-feet — the entire first floor of its building, since 2007, when it became the first Panera Bread restaurant to open up in Connecticut, according to published reports.closing

The chain now has more than 2,000 locations, including in Connecticut – some owned by the company, most by franchisees.  While the departure from Newtown was an unexpected surprise to customers, plans to leave the Darien location have been known since June, when it was first reported by local media.

Last fall, a Panera location closed in Meriden and a location in nearby Wallingford opened. Also on the plus side, a Panera opened earlier this year at Evergreen Walk shopping plaza in South Windsor.  As of this spring, there were 17 Panera Bread locations in Connecticut, all across the state.  The Downtown Hartford location, its first in the city, opened in 2013.

paneraAs of June 28, 2016, there were 2,007 bakery-cafes in 46 states and in Ontario, Canada operating under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. or Paradise Bakery & Cafe names. Published reports indicate the company has 97,000 employees nationwide and saw a 3.4 percent growth in sales in its third quarter this year. In 2015, it reportedly generated roughly $2.7 billion in revenue. Founder and CEO Ron Shaich attended college at Clark University in Worcester in the 1970’s.

Earlier this year, Fortune magazine reported that the company estimated that over 20% of orders would be produced and paid for digitally by the end of 2016, up from 16%. In some markets, digital sales are making up more than a third of retail sales, according to the company. The restaurant chain says digital orders could make up half of the total business down the road, the magazine reported.

According to the industry website Fast Casual, Panera Bread does not sell single-unit franchises, so it is not possible to open just one bakery-cafe. Rather, the company has chosen to develop by selling market areas which require the franchise developer to open a number of units, typically 15 bakery-cafes in a period of 6 years.

Panera says it serves 3 to 4 percent of all Americans every week.