Au Bon Pain brought Panera Bread to national prominence, and now Panera Bread is buying out the brand that gave it life.
It sounds like something out of a romance novel. At the very least, it’s got more intrigue than your average acquisition of a holding company from a private equity firm. Panera Bread, America’s eleventh largest quick-service chain by sales with over 2,000 locations nationwide, has acquired the somewhat similarly-focused, 300-plus unit café chain Au Bon Pain. But here’s the twist: Panera Bread was actually originally created by Au Bon Pain. We said there’d be intrigue!
The first Au Bon Pain opened in Boston in 1976, but it wasn’t until a man by the name of Ron Shaich joined the company in 1981 that the brand of croissant-baking cafes really started to take off. By 1993, Shaich and company decided to grow their venture by purchasing a then-little-known brand called the Saint Louis Bread Company. In 1997, Au Bon Pain decided to rename that company Panera Bread – and by 1999, Panera Bread was growing at such a clip that Shaich’s team decide to sell off the Au Bon Pain brand to focus more exclusively on Panera. To put it both more concisely, but also more confusingly, Au Bon Pain sold off Au Bon Pain and so it could fully transform into Panera Bread.
In the intervening decades, a lot has happened to both brands: Au Bon Pain has been through multiple owners; and JAB Holdings, known for its extensive investments in café and coffee brands, bought out Panera Bread earlier this year. One of the changes happening at Panera is that CEO Ron Shaich will be stepping down from his post as head of the chain at the end of the year to focus on larger ventures. However, as one of his final acts, Shaich decided to go all Hollywood love story… as Panera Bread bought back the company that helped raise it, Au Bon Pain.
“We are bringing Au Bon Pain and Panera together again,” Shaich said in a statement, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Grab a hanky. Wipe away the tears. Fade out. Roll credits.