Chicago-born Corner Bakery Cafe coming to Tampa Bay area

Corner Bakery Cafe, a Panera Bakery clone, has signed a deal to have 10 of its fast casual restaurants operating in the Tampa Bay area within five to seven years.

The local franchisee says the first store will open within a year and is initially scouting the usual suspects for locations: Westshore, Palm Harbor, Brandon and St. Petersburg.

The 130-store chain sprouted from of an awning-graced bakery in downtown Chicago set up in 1991 to make breads for the first Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant next door. The bakery turned into an espresso cafe and then a chain dishing up breakfast, lunch and light dinner fare.

"We're best known for our panini, soups, salads and, of course, fresh-baked bread," said Nirav Mehta, president of Yum & Chill Restaurant Group, the Warraen, N.J., firm that won the regional franchise and also operates 12 Golden Corral restaurants.

The average Corner Bakery meal is $10. The average 110-seat restaurant and 250-seat patio generates a healthy $2.2 million in sales. About 20 percent of the business is catering.

No download needed Sweetbay Supermarket has launched a mobile website formatted for smart phones that does not require downloading an app.

Shoppers merely click on sweetbaysupermarket.com to build a shopping list (complete with grocery prices), check nutritional information, buy gift cards and fetch recipes or coupons (which must be printed).

So far it's nothing flashy.

"It's very task oriented for shoppers trying to save time," said Nicole LeBeau Gavin, spokeswoman for the 105-store Tampa chain. "As the site evolves, we'll make improvements."

Big gets bigger With the march of the mega-filling stations, including newcomers Wawa and Thornton's, well under way, the volatile convenience store landscape in the Tampa Bay area is no place for the meek and weakly financed.

C-store global giant 7-Eleven has not been waiting around. By building new stores, converting 37 into franchises owned by former store managers and recently acquiring and rebranding 183 locations across Central Florida from Exxon-Mobil, longtime Florida force 7-Eleven has been marking its territory.

Through the recession, 7-Eleven increased its store count in the four-county bay area from 95 to 126. This year, 15 more will be added as 7-Eleven works to be the closest C-store to the most people.

"We're using convenience to build our market share," said Grant Distel, the chain's director of development for Florida. "And we're stepping it up."

Statewide, the chain's store count jumped from 541 in 2007 to more than 800 this year, plus a commitment to return to the Jacksonville market with 80 stores over the next several years.

Telling resumes Job histories of freshly hired top executives are often a barometer of a retailer's aspirations.

The Gap's choice for president of Old Navy, its budget-priced preppy kids apparel unit, is Stefan Larsson, a high ranking executive culled from Swedish fast fashion chain H&M.

Cheap, chic H&M and Spanish Zara both leapfrogged Gap Inc. a few years ago, ending Gap's reign as the world's largest apparel chain.

Meantime, HSN hired Ann Martin-Vachon, the former chief marketing officer of fashionable Nordstrom Inc. and a veteran cosmetics and personal care products executive with Bath & Body Works and Procter & Gamble Inc. She becomes the St. Petersburg TV shopping network's top merchant, heading brand product choices and development.

Staff writer Mark Albright can be reached at albright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Chicago-born Corner Bakery Cafe coming to Tampa Bay area 05/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 5:44pm]

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