Panera on College Avenue slated to open its doors next month
Students on the College Avenue campus will not have to wait much longer to get their hands on some of their favorite soups, salads and sandwiches from Panera Bread.
As reported by The Daily Targum in January, the Missouri-based fast-casual dining chain reached a contract with Rutgers University just prior to the beginning of the spring semester.
The new restaurant will be housed in the space adjacent to the Rutgers Student Center, which has recently been vacated by competing cafe Au Bon Pain after the University chose not to renew its lease.
While there were no immediate plans for construction at the time, the renovations are now well underway, according to Matt Scobbie, senior real estate manager for Panera Bread.
Scobbie said that while there is no set date for the store’s grand opening, the company is on track to have the restaurant open to the public sometime in May.
Scobbie said that he is confident in this timeline and that he foresees no obstacles in the store’s opening.
“There’s always risk involved in inspections, but other than that I don’t see us having any problems,” he said.
The former Au Bon Pain space is receiving a complete top-to-bottom remodel before the new store’s grand opening next month, Scobbie said. Upon opening, the new Panera Bread will look similar to the chain’s other traditional locations.
According to Panera Bread’s website, the company operates 2,024 cafes throughout the United States and Canada, with several stores located on college campuses. Although the future cafe is not yet listed on Panera Bread’s website, Scobbie said that students can bank on being able to stop by the new store before the start of the summer season.
Scobbie said that with the exception of managers that often rotate from store to store within the chain, the new eatery will feature an entirely new operating staff. Although former Au Bon Pain employees are welcome to apply to the new Panera Bread, no employees are being immediately retained.
“Typically it’s management that gets shifted around,” Scobbie said. ”It is pretty common to place existing store managers in a new cafe and then hire the restaurant staff from the local community.”
Scobbie said he has received positive feedback from both University officials and the community in recent weeks regarding the new cafe and that he has been told of a significant buzz among the student body.
Kristina Matthews, a School of Arts and Science first-year student, said she likes the idea of the new store potentially providing jobs for students and other members of the Rutgers community.
The five-month wait for the new restaurant is not a major problem, she said.
“I think it's fine, that's what’s expected,” Matthews said. “We have a dining hall right there, and there's the student center too.”
Panera bread’s extensive coffee options, as well as their simple ordering process, will make the cafe a hit among students and faculty on the College Avenue campus, Matthews said.
Brittany Boland, a School of Arts and Science junior, said that she expects the new Panera Bread to be well worth the wait. She would rather have a longer wait for the grand opening if it means the construction is done correctly.
“I’m excited,” Boland said. “As long as it opens and it's not done poorly, they can take their time.”
Boland said that she believes Panera’s menu will be more of a draw for students than Au Bon Pain's because it features more well-rounded meals.
Elizabeth Giancaspro, a School of Arts and Science junior, said that the new Panera will likely provide students with a much better dining experience as opposed to that of Au Bon Pain. The latter had been lacking in several ways before it closed.
“I didn't like their service or their quality of food,” Giancaspro said. “Panera will be more popular. A lot of my friends are excited about it.”
Despite her expectations of an earlier opening date, Giancaspro said that even though the wait has been longer than she expected, she is still looking forward to Panera Bread’s opening.
“I thought it would be coming earlier this semester,” she said. “but as long as it's here for finals, it's fine with me.”
Matt Powell is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.