With humble bakery beginnings, Panera Bread could be considered the lunch fare underdog. Once a 400-foot cookie shop owned by founder Ron Shaich, the Saint Louis Bread Co. — err, Panera — has since grown to become a national favorite with over 2,000 restaurant locations.
It’s credited as one of the first fast casual dining options, according to the brand, and stands as a haven for bread bowl lovers everywhere. In fact, Panera means “bread basket” in Latin, so it’s only natural that its soups are offered in glutenous vessels.
The restaurant’s backstory begins with a small chain of bakeries in Saint Louis purchased by Au Bon Pain owner Shaich in the 1990s. The Saint Louis Bread Co. locations were then renamed Panera (the St. Louis locations still retain the original name, though) as Shaich’s vision for a national chain developed. Shaich sold the company’s division of Au Bon Pain in 1999 to focus solely on the rapidly growing chain restaurant.
By the end of the 2010s, over 1,000 Panera locations had popped up across the United States. While modern-day menus have shifted with the times, the restaurant’s bistro-inspired interior, comfy seating, and warm plates of comfort food remain.
Panera offers a variety of soups, salads, and other light fare (which some social media users refer to as “overpriced hospital food”). Free WiFi and an inviting dining room color scheme also helped the chain establish itself as a meeting hub, study hall, and anything in between.
How many Paneras are located in your home state? Check out the map below to find out.
The Number of Panera Breads by State
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