Rumors of Panera coming downtown began to fly as soon as the empty space on Calhoun was purchased. Everyone walking down the street endured the sign’s teasing while patiently waiting for the construction to be completed. Finally, eager students peered in at the drywall and watched the workers train, the anticipation still building. One could almost taste the tomato basil soup and the bacon turkey bravos. Finally, the time had come: Panera was open.
The national chain’s local opening was a source of anticipation for many students as they craved the soup and sandwich joint they so often visited in their hometowns. Now, it’s here – and less than two blocks from campus. Whether it be for a bagel for breakfast or a salad for dinner, students felt grateful for the long-awaited opening. A handful of lucky students even scored a special early dining invitation from an employee.
To top off the grand opening, Panera workers were seen handing half-dozens of bagels out to lucky passersby. Among those to snag the free bagels was freshman Katie Duchinski, who attended the opening as a Panera virgin. Duchinski explained that the kitchen workers accidentally made too many that morning, leaving her to munch on the deliciously free treats for days to come.
“I was really excited. I felt like I had a lot of bagels with me,” Duchinski said.
Students were drawn to the new restaurant not only for the food, but for the chance to make some money. Many began training for the job over Martin Luther King Day weekend, and learned that this Panera is different from the ones at which they are used to eating. Freshman employee Lindsay Lloyd was surprised to learn this store is open an hour later than regular Panera hours, until 11:00 p.m., in order to better cater to a college town.
The late closing time is not the only notable change. Lloyd calls this Panera an “express style” store, with the workers packaging all food for take out due to the small dining space of only 12 tables. Despite the push for takeout, Lloyd says the store is still all about the customers.
“If an order’s wrong, we remake it for you, or if we do something and the customer isn’t happy, we’ll give them a free pastry,” Lloyd said. “[Panera] is very good about making sure that the customer is happy and making sure that it’s a good environment and a clean environment, and I like that.”
The clean environment means worlds to Lloyd, who has experience with restaurants that have good food, but less than stellar conditions.
“There are a lot of places where it’s like ‘oh, that’s such good food’ and once you work there you’re like ‘oh, I don’t want to eat it,'” Lloyd said. “I don’t really feel that way about Panera. I feel like it’s a good environment.”
Panera is receiving steady business from its targeted student population, especially with its later hours. They continue to meet demands, serving up plenty of their famous cheesy broccoli soup and macaroni and cheese.