Waukesha residents have a new place to grab some grub, and it's the place many had hoped for.
Amid the cold and snow in the past few days, Panera Bread opened its doors, officially on Wednesday, Dec. 14, with the warmth of baked bread, hoping to to satisfy the appetites of those hungering for the popular chain. The long-rumored presence at the Shoppes at Fox River shopping center was only recently confirmed after months of speculation.
Joint Venture Partner Steve Armstrong expressed excitement over the restaurant finding a place in the Waukesha community. He has heard comments and questions about when the restaurant would find a home in Waukesha. (The nearest Panera Bread to Waukesha is located in either Pewaukee or in New Berlin, depending on where you live in the city.)
The plan to build a Panera Bread has been in the works for a year.
"We finally found the right place in Waukesha and are happy to be here," Armstrong said.
While the opening is official, it hasn't been widely publicized. That's intentional. Armstrong said the soft opening is just how Panera does business, adding that the purpose is to avoid staff members from becoming overwhelmed.
Even though the weather was frosty, Armstrong was happy to see people lined up early in the morning. The first 100 people in line were given a free You Pick Two selections for a year. (As part of that menu option, patrons can combine any two half portions of Panera's salads, sandwiches, soups, macaroni and cheese, or flatbreads to create their own meal.)
he first 200 who signed up for a My Panera Card received a free mug. During the opening, anyone who ordered on the kiosk was given a free cookie.
"We have been very happy with how it has been received," he said.
Secrets to success
Panera Bread has been around since the late 1980s and has over 2,000 locations around the U.S. and Canada.
Armstrong said the company has a nice niche in the fast/casual sector of the restaurant business. He added many of the foods they offer are healthy.
"We have a good variety and it works," he said.
General manager David Stedman, who has been a part of the Panera chain for two years, lives in the Muskego area but finds the Waukesha area to be full of enthusiastic and friendly customers and employees.
"We have 30 high school students who work for us. I'm so impressed with the quality of people working here," Stedman said.
Another unique aspect is how customers order their meals. Stedman commented on table delivery where a customer can order using an app and have their food delivered to where they are seated. There are kiosks and drive-thru options. Stedman said in a few months there will be a delivery option for the Waukesha branch.
Crystal Stigler of Waukesha, who was using the kiosk during lunch time last Wednesday, said she tried Panera Bread for the first time in Chicago some time ago and was happy for a closer location. She said she likes the bread and pastry selections.
Gary and Judy Vokovitch, a 50-year couple and longtime residents of Waukesha, were happy to have more restaurant variety in the area.
"I was here this morning and was one of the first 100 people to get a Pick Two for a year," Gary Vokovitch said.
The couple also expressed their delight over the continuing development of the Waukesha area. The couple agreed now they don't have to drive across Waukesha to go anywhere.
When asked if he would share his year of Panera food, he glanced at his wife, "Of course, she is the love of my life."