Panera Bread got its start in 1993 when Au Bon Pain purchased the St. Louis Bread Company from its founder, Ken Rosenthal. In 1999, Au Bon Pain sold its other restaurants and renamed itself to Panera Bread Company, realizing the huge potential of the brand. The name comes from a Latin derivative meaning “bread basket.”
The company offers a wide variety of pastries and baked goods, such as muffins, bagels, and pasta, along with beverages, including tea, frozen smoothies, coffees, and lemonade.
Panera was one of the first companies to offer free wifi service, however, due to high demand, the company was forced to cut users time to 30-60 minutes only during peak hours.
In 2007, the chain purchased 70 stores from Paradise Bakery & Cafe, a Phoenix, AZ, based company. The company is the largest provider of free WiFi service in the country.
In 2008, Panera expanded operations into Canada.
In 2009 and again in 2011, Panera was sued in California for failure to pay overtime and give employees mandated breaks and lunches. The company paid $5 million to settle claims without admitting any wrongdoing.
In 2010, the company moved its headquarters to the Sunset Hills area of St. Louis.
In 2011, the company had $2.7 billion in revenue and almost 50,000 employees.
In 2015, the company announced plans to use 100% cage-free eggs by 2020.
In March 2016, the company opened its 2000th location in Elyria, Ohio. The company has stated that it intends to remove all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives from its “At Home” line of grocery products by the end of 2016.
The company states that in 2016, they had annual revenue of $2.6 billion. That same year, the company was sued when an employee deliberately put peanut butter on a sandwich, even after being told that the customer was allergic to peanuts.
In 2017, subsidiaries that were named Paradise Bakery and Cafe were rebranded to the Panera Bread name.
The company was forced to recall the cream cheese they sell at all locations due to fear of listeria contamination in January 2018.
Panera ramped up its advertising for the new dinner menu in June 2019, in hopes of luring more customers who usually think of the chain only for breakfast or lunch.
After a public outcry, the company announced that they were returning French onion soup to the menu in early January 2020.
In January 2020, Panera announced a major overhaul to their menu, with at least 50% of their menu items being vegan, as well as using 30% less meat in the remaining menu items.
Panera Bread was listed in February 2023 as one of the most expensive food chains in the US.
Panera currently has over 2100 locations in 41 US states and Canada. The Panera Bread corporate office is still located in St. Louis, Missouri, and locations that are in St Louis still operate under the name St. Louis Bread Company.