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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?

  2. Nancy N. says:


    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!

  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.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Welcomed! Sure I will visit and buy your goodies.

  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!

    • The Truth says:

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • mrfrd says:

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

    • 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.

    • Flagler lady says:

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

  6. Pcadiron says:

    Love the pumpkin muffies!

  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.

  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!

  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!

    • 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?

    • 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.

    • 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. ;-)

    • 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.

  10. Worker says:

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

    • 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?

  11. Jojo says:

    Misery Loves Company.

  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.

  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).

  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.

  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.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    Went to Panera yesterday Wednesday opening day thru drive in, as was crowded. I spent close to 15 bucks and got a $5 coupon for next time.The two 99 cents 3 cheese logs were good, the two strawberry pastries delicious, the two croissants were not, and the two scons, one orange one blueberry. Scons I bought for my daughter I don’t know have to ask her. As I live in the heart of Palm, Coast I will buy from them only when I have to go to Rte 100 for other needs, as with the cost of gas is too far drive just for baked goods and too long to walk there and back. To all those folks going to Olive Garden and Red Lobster, please remember also we have our other Italian and seafood places around town that need our patronage…as they also provide jobs for our local workers and their menu has different choices.

  17. Cypress Grand says:

    I won $200 yesterday and am so excited to have Panera Bread in our neighborhood! A great place for me to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The salads are fabulous and who beat the soups they offer? I have yet to buy a pastry. Oatmeal this morning and a delicious breakfast sandwith yesterday. There are plenty of choices, plus the music is wonderful. The managers told me this morning that yesterday the Palm Coast Grand Opening set a nationwide record in sales for the first day of grand opening! Love their coffee and their hours — opening at 6AM works for me!

    • Jackie Mulligan says:

      Way to go Palm Coast! Panera Bread is a Feather in their cap, and a boost to the economy of ALL of Flagler county! And to think they may open a second. Hurray !
      I live in Flagler Beach and certainly will go to Panera Bread as well as other P. C. business’s as well as in my own town.
      We should all be welcoming them for their investment in our community.
      No one is saying you have to go there, but it is nice to have options in this small county.
      I love being able to shop in my own county, not to have to go and spend the money that I make in Flagler in someone else’s county.

      Enough of the negativism, we certainly have had our share .

      Embrace the positive changes that come and try to minimize the negative ones.

      Thank you.
      Jackie Mulligan

  18. Initialjoe says:

    SO, I am happy to have panera here…sort of. I wish there were less chain stores and more local entrepreneuers that would open up businesses here. Some of the best restaurants I have eaten at in this area have been family owned and local only. LOCAL NEEDS IT!

    Panera will do just fine. All they need to do is stick their picture on one of those I-95 food signs and they will have a steady flow of travel business. :) Plus it is great that they are giving to Feed Flagler…more businesses should be socially responsible.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great, another boring chain restaurant. I think I’ll goto Highjackers.

    • justaperson says:

      Who says the patrons of Panera don’t visit chains as well? I personally like to visit both chain restaurants and mom and pop places. Why do people think it has to be one or the other? Good grief people can’t we have both?!

  20. Lynn Tobin says:

    The stock of both Starbucks and Panera Bread is doing great–near all time highs! Proof positive that both are good places to dine and people want what they offer!! Truth is people may not take as many trips, because of the economy, but they WILL splurge on what they eat! By the way, if you invested in some Panera stock at the start of the year you would have made a 14.76% return on your money (according to CNBC). It’s about time our town got its own Panera Bread Co. I’m tied of going to Ormond Beach. Can’t wait to go!!

  21. Flagler lady says:

    Panera Bread we welcome you. Flagler is a community made up of many different people with different taste’s. However we all like to eat, especially when the food is good. I am glad you are here, I only went to the one in Ormond or Daytona when I was down there, but always enjoyed it.
    We are very glad you are here, and excited about another site opening soon. Some say we have too many Publix yet they all keep busy, we can never have too many Panera’s. Thank you for bringing jobs to our community also.

  22. Jthethird says:

    Palm Coast really needs to relax its small business obstacles. If they did we would have a Stonewood Grill & Tavern and Peach Valley Cafe…

  23. Sandi says:

    We tourists who vacation in Flagler Beach over the winter are so happy to see Panera Bread now in the area. We support local business and chains equally. With Panera you can count on receiving the same great product and service at all their locations. Looking forward to dropping by for breakfast, lunch or dinner on our return in January.

    • Anonymous says:

      They are always out of the soup of the day and every other soup(except tomato) after 5 PM….been over a year now and nothing has changed…we are done with them….try ordering potato soup or clam chowder after 5pm…hey Panera..!!!,…done with you….bye bye!!!

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