The observant among us is aware of the new Panera Bread opening in downtown Lincoln. Since some of you have asked me if it makes me nervous to see them move in nearby, I figured I would post my thoughts about this corporate big boy entering the culinary ring.

We are not the same

When Jeff Korbelik reviewed our place after we opened, he pegged us as a sandwich shop and if that’s all you know us as, you’re missing the other facets that make our place distinct. Many who only visit us at lunch assume we are just a deli like Panera that makes its own bread. Panera sells bread, and we sell bread. They sell sandwiches on their bread, and we do with ours also, but our similarities quickly diminish after that. A visit to each of our prospective locations and our distinctions become pretty obvious.

  • Are you going to know the owner?
  • Do they sell Old Stock?
  • Can you get a Sauvignon Blanc with that lunch?
  • Will you see their chef at the Farmer’s Market?
  • Are they going to stay open later for your group to celebrate a little longer?
  • Are their decisions based on charts and graphs or on what’s fresh and in season and raised a few miles outside of town?
  • Do they make their gnocchi from scratch with locally raised potatoes?
  • How’s their brisket?
  • How about a single malt scotch to cap off the meal?
  • Did the baker mix & knead their bread or just bake it?
  • Did they make the soup from scratch that day?
  • Will their chef come to your table and talk food and wine with you?

I will guess that the answer to most of those, if not all, is no. So as I see it, Panera is not my real competition.

We have a free market

But regardless of how similar or different I am from the next food establishment, in a free market, free means free, regardless of size. I like to know that my success in business is based on my idea and product being superior to my competition, regardless of how big or small that competition is. Panera has as much right to do business in my town as I do. Dick Blick Art Materials, a national art supply chain, went out of business because Gomez Art Supply, a locally owned shop, was preferred by the market. If the playing field is fair, and I have a demand for my product, I need not be too concerned with places like Panera.

More exposure

The more attention downtown Lincoln gets, the more I benefit from that awareness. I am still amazed at how many long term Lincolnites are coming in for the first time after being open two years, carrying with them the same words, “I never come downtown.” If Panera gets you down here, you may want to return and check out what you’ve missed, and I reap the rewards without spending a penny on new advertising.

More opportunity
Panera has a pretty sizeable catering arm, and with the amount of business offices downtown, I’m sure they will do well. But eating the same thing at every sales meeting may lead you to ask who else does catering downtown. We may get to introduce you to our options.

I want a growing economy
Success breeds success, and I want a vibrant economy in a community where people are proud to call it home. Let Supply and Demand do its thing. If Panera fails, I’d rather it be due to a lack of demand for its product, not because of an ailing economic condition.

Thoughts about Panera Bread

2 thoughts on “Thoughts about Panera Bread

  • July 17, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    My two cents: Given the choice.., it's not a choice. Bread & Cup always wins. Even if I was closer to Panera I'd trudge to the Haymarket for real food.

  • July 23, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    With hope this opening becomes just another outlet toward driving your creations to the next level. Our venue-of-choice won't be changing- you can't package personality. Can't wait to be back in Lincoln when the school year begins and enjoy sunsets from the patio. And how about a "Bo Panini" after Husker games? 🙂

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