Rutgers in negotiations to replace Au Bon Pain with Panera
Fans of the fast-casual dining chain, Panera Bread, are in for a pleasant surprise this upcoming semester.
With the closure of Au Bon Pain’s College Avenue location last month, the University confirmed that it is currently in negotiations with competing restaurant Panera Bread to open a location in the space adjacent to the Rutgers Student Center.
When Au Bon Pain’s lease expired on Dec. 31 of last year, Rutgers University decided not to renew it, said Associate Director of Cash and Catering Operations for the University Joseph Charette. Recent reception of Au Bon Pain had been less than favorable, Charette said.
“Faculty, staff and especially students had been expressing displeasure with product availability, product freshness and overall maintenance of the store,” Charette said in an email.
The University is using the closure of Au Bon Pain as an opportunity to seek out a contract with Missouri-based restaurant chain Panera Bread, which currently operates more than 2,000 stores in the United States and Canada, according to their website.
Rutgers is expected to come to an agreement regarding the lease as soon as Jan. 20, Charette said. Since the project is still in the early planning phases, it is too early to provide specific information on the store’s opening date and whether or not it will accept RU Express, Charette said.
The only thing that the University is certain of at this point is that Panera Bread will most likely be filling Au Bon Pain’s old storefront on the College Avenue campus. Most other specifics are still up in the air, he said.
“At this point, it is hard to imagine the Panera partnership falling through,” Charette said.
Although the University is confident that the negotiations will succeed, construction on the store has not yet begun, Charette said.
Basant Mahmoud, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she is excited about the idea of Panera Bread opening its doors at Rutgers.
“Panera would be much more popular with the student body than Au Bon Pain was, since they have more of a following and their food is so much better. Panera would be perfect with the good location and then good food to go with it,” she said.
Mahmoud said the draw for Au Bon Pain was more out of convenience than student desire for the restaurant itself, and the food at Au Bon Pain was not anything special.
Other students, such as School of Arts and Sciences junior Rebecca Rucinski, are indifferent as to what replaces Au Bon Pain.
“I just liked (Au Bon Pain) because it was convenient when I would walk down College Avenue in the morning,” she said. “It’s great that they want to make it Panera Bread, but it’s going to be annoying not having that place to stop in the meantime since I don't have a meal plan ... I guess when it comes down to it, I just want my coffee and bagel in the morning and I don’t care where it comes from."
Rucinski said she hopes the renovations do not last too long but said they probably will due to the small size of the space.
“The only real negative that I can think of is probably the amount of people and the lines being a little long,” Mahmoud said. “Everyone I know loves Panera. This place is going to be a hot spot for a while after it opens. I can’t wait.”
Matt Powell is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.