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Panera Bread Rises Crisply in Palm Coast, With Promise of Second Location Within a Year

| April 10, 2012

Come and get it. (© FlaglerLive)

There they were. The strawberry and cream pastries. The wild blueberry scones. The pumpkin muffies (yes, muffies. The muffins have their own seductive garrisons.) The pecan braids. Those cinnamon rolls in blizzards of frosting. And of course the croissants in their self-hugging pose of flakes and their distant French relations on higher shelves—the three cheese and three-seed demi loaves, the sourdough bowls, and the eminent foot soldier of them all: the baguette.

Lavish. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive)

That’s just the breads. And they were all there, arrayed in their golden glories along with the paninis, the soups crowned in cream, the salad choices that read like a globe-trotting travelogue. At a self-help counter, another trademark: the four thermoses in the shape of mini-silos to dispense the four choices of coffee: dark and light roast, hazelnut and decaf. None of that clutter of coffee combinations and names, none of those overindulgences for latté dilettantes.

If you’ve been to any of these places before, and chances are you have—and have traveled miles by the league to get to them—you know what it is by now. It had you at blueberry scone: this is Panera Bread, and on Tuesday, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and the rest of the county took their first bite at their very own Panera, which opened to a free, all-you-can-eat lunch hosted by Panera and the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, mostly by invitation: quite a few people who had neither an invitation nor a chamber affiliation stepped in, and were welcomed with the kind of warmth that radiates from a freshly baked pain au chocolat.

The restaurant, on State Road 100 next to the Hilton Garden Inn, has its grand opening to the public at 6 a.m. Wednesday, remaining open until 9:30 p.m., as will its drive-through, as it will 363 days a year, 364 on leap years. The only two days it closes are Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And by early next year, there may well be a second Panera in town, that one on Palm Coast Parkway, not far from Dunkin Donuts, on the south side of the Parkway. The Flagler Beach location, which had been talked about a few months ago, is not in the works for now, Gavin Ford, the company’s operating partner, said.

“We’re so happy to be here in Palm Coast. It only took 10 year,” Ford said, an allusion, only semi-humorous, to the innumerable obstacles and at times inordinate work stoppages, ordered by Palm Coast, that the company surmounted on its way to opening day. Stickler is an understatement when it comes to Palm Coast’s regulations of small businesses. Not so coincidentally, the city council, all of whose members were at today’s special opening, had just adjourned from a meeting at which they’d killed a proposal to let home-based bakeries operate at a small ebb.

The restaurant can seat 221 people inside. That's Mayor Jon Netts in the foreground. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

“We know you’re going to be successful,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts told Ford and the Panera staff,  which totals 85 employees working in four shifts. “Your success is our success.” The ribbon-cutting lasted all of 90 seconds: there was too much to eat and drink, and it was lunchtime.

Most of the county’s eminences were there, led Netts and his wife Priscilla (old habitués of Panera),  several county commission members, a couple of city managers, most of the constitutional officers, and the chamber’s usual platoons of executives, friends, family, acquaintances, Facebook likes. Doug Baxter, president of the local chamber, was seen standing in place several times, as if marveling at the throngs around him. “I’d never been in a Panera until last week,” he said. “I think it’s awesome. The food is delightful.”

Unlike the opening down the road of that other restaurant duo just about a year ago—Red Lobster and  Olive Garden—where the VIP lunch was a rigidly controlled affair, closed to most and featuring a stingy cast of politicians and business types, a broadly open door characterized Panera’s invitation, the atmosphere inside echoing the relaxed sense of bounty.


Panera is a different sort of company, balancing its corporate responsibility to shareholders with its social responsibility to community. It takes charity seriously, fostering partnerships with local non-profits and daily donating its remaindered baked goods and other foods to food banks. This Panera, says Eryn Catter, the company’s marketing director, has chosen Feed Flagler as its local partner. Feed Flagler is the county commission’s program, created and led by Commissioner Milissa Holland, that feed some 2,000 people at Thanksgiving while raising cash and literally tons of food for the county’s needy. It’s right in line with Panera’s sense of community mission.

Throughout the year, Panera restaurants across the country hold special events to add to their charity work. Coming up locally on May 4 is Blue Ribbon Bagel Day, when 100 percent of proceeds generated from the sale of blueberry bagels will benefit local foster children.

“Everything I’ve heard puts them at the top of the list,” Netts said of the company’s socially responsible practices. Loyalty, too, appears to be a strong part of the company’s success. Netts tells the story of two women who work at the office of a local orthopedic surgeon. Every day they’ve been going to St. Johns or Volusia County to get their fix of Panera. “When this finally solidified,” Netts said of the Palm Coast Panera’s opening, “I called them up and said: I’m going to be your hero.”

Panera can have that effect. It’s the iPhone of restaurants, commanding the same affection, the same dependence, and of course the same affinities for WiFi. Palm Coast finally has its own.

Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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38 Responses for “Panera Bread Rises Crisply in Palm Coast, With Promise of Second Location Within a Year”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    They ain’t them kinda’ pansies put tomato gravy on cornbread an’ call it polenta or sumthin’ are they?

       0 likes

  2. Nancy N. says:

    Mmmmm….Panera…..

    Really afraid those muffins are not going to help this lady’s muffin top. LOL Have been to Panera several times in other cities. It is an experience! So excited they are coming to Palm Coast!

       0 likes

  3. citizen of palm coast says:

    I’m so happy Panera Bread has come to Palm Coast. I can call ahead and stop on my way home and pick up dinner for the family when I don’t feel like cooking…Palm Coast is really getting in the groove of things..

    Now we need a Popeyes and Checkers to add to this town, then I wouldn’t have to go to Daytona for the best chicken and burgers for the kids….

    Thanks Palm Coast for….Panera Bread.

       1 likes

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Welcomed! Sure I will visit and buy your goodies.

       1 likes

  5. GoodFella says:

    Very overrated for what you get, not worth it. Over priced and nothing is actually baked in house, all bakery items are brought in. Second location will never happen, this one might not even make it itself. They will be busy for the first few months until the newness wears off, then they will die just like all the other restaurants in this town. Sad but true!

       8 likes

    • The Truth says:

      You must be a blast to hang out with Mr Positive!

         15 likes

    • Art Woosley says:

      There is always a depressed person who manages to post and spread his negative pessimistic outlook. Let the rest of us people enjoy this wonderful new Panera.

         14 likes

    • D.S. says:

      My son has worked for Panera for the past 2 years. Everything is baked in house except for the Crumb Cake. The bakers come in late in the evening and bake all night. I am not sure where you got your info. on where the baked goods come from. They are a good company to work for and donate whatever goods that are left over to different feeding programs every night. Being so close to 95 will be a real benefit for business. My son’s Panara is just off 95 and has the largest volume of sales a week, most weeks, in the US.

         4 likes

    • mrfrd says:

      Not so, they bake everything at night for next day.

         1 likes

    • FlaglerGal says:

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. Panera does its baking on the premises. I have been a patron of theirs for years, and loved it when I went up to PA this past holiday. Their food is always that is ALWAYS good. I love their baked goods, too. I predict they will be a huge success and they are a business that will give back to the community. No need to be a sour puss.

         1 likes

    • Flagler lady says:

      Try and find the good in new businesses wanting to be in Flagler County.

         0 likes

  6. Pcadiron says:

    Love the pumpkin muffies!

       0 likes

  7. The Truth says:

    Panera is a great addition to Palm Coast and it WILL stay busy. I still remember those who said Olive Garden wouldn’t last here. Almost any time I go to Olive Garden there is at least a 20 minute wait and people waiting outside. I would say they’re doing fairly well. People have money in this community and the more that we bring to this area, the more that money stays local rather than Daytona or St. Augustine.

       9 likes

  8. Sherry Epley says:

    Geez. . . how in the world can anyone be so negative about a fabulous bakery? If you don’t like Panera, then don’t go. Just try to find anything similar, with such variety and high quality, in this area. This is a very successful company. I am certain that they took the location near the hospital and I 95 into consideration, and that their chances for yet another highly profitable location are really good. You are so right, Art. . . I say, let’s pull together in our community and support this great company. WELCOME PANERA. . . . YUM!

       10 likes

  9. Flagler Native says:

    Negative how so? Stop living then because life is a negative journey. He was simply stating the truth based on facts about how many businesses I’ve seen fail in this town. You obviously haven’t lived here long enough. Use common sense, Art,& Truth… America is in a recession with 4 to 5.00 dollars a gallon gas, do you really think families which make up most of Flagler County really are going to pay 2 bucks for a croissant??? People are looking for a bargain, get real. Cute concept but wrong timing. I agree Goodfella thanx for keepin’ it real on here!

       4 likes

    • The Truth says:

      I’ve lived here for 20 years. The businesses that fail were usually smaller businesses that had very poor business plans. Please tell me, what businesses have failed in this area that opened in the last 5 years?

         3 likes

    • letsgetreal says:

      “America is in a recession with 4 to 5.00 dollars a gallon gas, do you really think families which make up most of Flagler County really are going to pay 2 bucks for a croissant???”

      YES. And so will the people traveling on I-95.

         4 likes

    • justaperson says:

      Yes I think they will. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are alive and thriving in this county. Besides the fact they’re saving themselves on the gas they would normally spend to drive to St Augustine or Daytona for said croissant.

      And FYI, I’m no newby to the area. ;-)

         2 likes

    • Think first, act second says:

      What then is your explanation for Houligans, Outback, Bob Evans, Ruby Tuesday, Woody’s, Sonny’s Dunkin Donuts, oh my gosh 1.25 for a pastry, but now there are 3 where you can get them from, If your glass is 1/2 empty you will see the bad, 1/2 full and you will see brighter days and hope for change.

         7 likes

  10. Worker says:

    Are there actually any employers coming into Palm Coast that hire people for more than part time and minimum wage?

       3 likes

    • Think first, act second says:

      There are 85 happy Flagler County residents who are happy they are here, and I would bet the turn out for the jobs far exceeded that 85. Why complain about new jobs? I am sure all of the employees working there wish they were making $20 an hour, but that they are happy and happily accepted what they were offered. Wonder if they asked for their Facebook passwords?

         1 likes

  11. Jojo says:

    Misery Loves Company.

       2 likes

  12. Bob Z. says:

    America may be in a recession but from what I see this area is doing quite well; 15% unemployment still means that 85% of the people are employed, and spending money. Just about everyone I know in the area is working, making money, and spending it. And Panera will strive, just as many other restaurants in the area do.

       2 likes

  13. Gobstopped says:

    The businesses that have failed have had poor business plans and no national backing (chains). This is such a fluid county with people moving in/out a lot of folks flock to what they know (chains). If you are -consistantly- good, you’ll survive (or are a chain).

       2 likes

  14. CosaNostra says:

    Your right GoodFella, I also give it two years to close. A few chain restaurants have also closed, BeefObradys, Shoneys, Hardees,Blimpies… I just came back from Panera to check it out. The prices are not that great, 8 dollars for a 4 inch snack sandwich and cup of soup. The pastries looked ok but expensive as well. Spent over 20 dollars for two and left hungry. Oh well, lesson learned.

       2 likes

  15. Ken Dodge says:

    Nobody goes to Olive Garden anymore…it’s too crowded. (with a tip of the hat to Yogi Berra).

    I have just two words for Panera: cinnamon rolls.

       0 likes

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