Who started Panera?

Ron Shaich took a cookie shop in Boston and turned it into a bakery-cafe empire

RestauranteursvRon Shaich, Louis Kane and Ken Rosenthal founded by Panera Bread, which is now a major heavy hitter among fast-casual restaurants, but the cafes have their roots in Boston and cookies, and St. Louis and sourdough bread.

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Since its doors opened, Panera has opened 2,300 bakery-cafes. It employs more than 140,000 associates and rakes in billions of dollars in sales each year. The company is owned by JB Holding, which controls dozens of chains including Keurig, Au Bon Pain, Krispy Kreme, and Pret a Manger.

Shaich, who served as Panera's CEO from 1984 to 2010 and again from March 2012 to January 2018, s credited with creating the concept of Panera, and founding and growing Au Bon Pain, under the same parent company.

Today, Shaich, a New Jersey native, is the managing partner of Act III Holdings, a $300 million fund that invests in public and private restaurant and consumer companies. But his legacy in the industry began when he partnered with the late Kane to expand his cookie business, which was a single shop in Boston called the Cookie Jar.

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In order to do so, Shaich became a licensee of Kane's French bakery company, Au Bon Pain, according to Fortune. At the time, Kane was trying to sell the business, which had three stores, because it was under so much debt, according to Fortune.

Ron Shaich (Panera) 

While they were working together, Shaich and Kane recognized that croissants filled with ingredients such as Boursin cheese and fresh roast beef were a hit, according to Panera. Soon, the bakery transitioned into a bakery-cafe. By 1991, the company, Au Bon Pain Co. Inc., went public and later opened hundreds of bakery-cafes.

By 1993, Au Bon Pain acquired St. Louis Bread Company, which was owned by Ken Rosenthal.

Before the sale, Rosenthal, who was 44 years old at the time, was looking for a fresh business idea, according to American Express. After his brother invited him to San Fransisco to see European-style bakeries, he fell in love with sourdough bread. So, Rosenthal took his passion and opened his first bread bakery in his native St. Louis.

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Rosenthal's was wildly popular sourdough bread soon caught Shaich's attention, according to Panera. In the mid-1990s, the St. Louis Bread Company's concept was revamped and named Panera.

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