Being bought out and being showered with billions of dollars is the dream of every entrepreneur when they begin a business. In the case of St. Louis-based Panera Bread, that goal came to fruition earlier this month when the fast-casual restaurant was purchased by European investment firm JAB Holding for a reported $7.5 billion.
The price paid is indicative of the success of a company that now has more than 2,000 outlets and was one of the forerunners of fast-casual outlets that catered to more health-conscious consumers. Such heady numbers are a far cry from its origins as a Boston café known as The Cookie Jar.
In 1981, that company and Au Bon Pain, which consisted of three bakeries at the time, came together in a merger. A decade later, that company began trading on the stock market, providing them the funds which allowed them in 1993 to purchase what was then known as the St. Louis Bread Company.
That company was the forerunner of Panera, since it primarily offered sandwiches and soups to customers. After adopting that name, success continued throughout that decade as over 100 new stores opened up. Despite the fact that there were 265 Au Bon Pain stores open at that time, those stores were sold off.
The move was wise, with customers starting to focus more on healthier options and away from the sweeter fare that made up Au Bon Pain. In the latter case, the number of stores have only been increased by roughly 13 percent, compared by the 16-fold surge of Panera.
In a sense, Panera is returning to its roots, since one of JAB’s key holdings is Krispy Kreme, the donut store that’s bounced back after being acquired a few years ago. In addition, coffee-based holdings round out their investments.