By Dave Schwab
Any way you sliced it, the new Panera Bread in the heart of La Jolla was creating a buzz last week.
The day before the official grand opening, an employee was handing out fresh-baked cookies to passersby; before that, they had dropped off sandwiches at neighboring businesses.
“We wanted to provide healthy food in a warm environment for a pretty good value,” said chief operating officer Patrick Rogers on opening day June 30 at the tri-level, 5,000-square-foot La Jolla Panera. Located at 7863 Girard Ave., it’s on the ground floor of the building that once housed Jack’s nightclub.
Phil Coller, president of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association, said Panera is just the right fit for the community.
“We’re looking to get some anchor businesses that are well known similar to Panera Bread that are going to upgrade the properties that they take over,” he said. “They fit in with the merchant’s association’s mission, which is to make La Jolla beautiful again.”
Noting the new bussiness association has created “a major upswell of enthusiasm to do something here,” Coller said “new quality businesses are a key element, and we welcome Panera Bread as one of the first.”
Standing on the lowest, below-the-street level of the new bakery-cafe with a team of workers making sandwiches and salads in the background, Panera’as COO talked about what sets the bread franchise apart.
“We bake all our breads fresh seven days a week — none of it’s frozen, none of it’s day-old,” Rogers said.
“Not a lot of companies in this country do that anymore,” chimed in Panera franchisee Paul Saber. “That’s what separates us immediately from any other food provider.”
Saber said Panera waited eight years to find just the right spot in La Jolla for its new outlet, adding it was worth the wait. He noted the real challenge was finding just the right blend of contemporary design and style to create an inviting atmosphere.
“There aren’t that many places that feel this comfortable, where you can just kind of sit and hang out and enjoy your time,” he said.
“We call it an everyday oasis,” added Rogers, noting soft colors and Lazy Boy chairs set the mood. “We try to convey a warm feeling so people really can get away from work and come to a place where they can enjoy and relax.”
Rogers said the middle level of the bakery-cafe is designed specifically to accommodate laptop users, while the upper level with booths serves families and groups.
Saber added this Panera was designed to harmonize with La Jolla.
“We wanted to keep it within the culture, cottagey, seaside, yet still be kind of hip and fresh,” he said. “Downstairs we wanted to create an old European kind of feel. Upstairs, more open space — we’ve even captured a little of the ocean view.”
Established in 1981 in St. Louis, Mo., Panera bread has nearly 1,500 company-owned and franchise-operated bakery-cafes in 40 states offering not only specialty breads, but sandwiches, salads and soup served in bread bowls.
The initial response to the new Panera has been encouraging. Said Saber: People have been e-mailing and texting me and saying they’ve been waiting for something like this for years.
Hopefully, we can be a blessing to the community: That’s our goal.”