Panera Bread fans might shudder at the idea of calling the pastries, sandwiches and salads fast food. But that's just what the bakery and cafe wants to accomplish with the addition of drive-throughs at some of its locations.
On Wednesday, the chain opens its first drive-through restaurant in Tampa, at 3420 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. just north of Raymond James Stadium.
Panera decided to put a drive-through at the newly constructed building because of its proximity to St. Joseph's Hospital, residential neighborhoods and other large employers. And doesn't an Asiago cheese bagel and cup of hazelnut coffee sound pretty good before a Bucs game?
A ribbon cutting is set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday during which officials will present a check to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital Heart Center for $20,000. Regular hours will be from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Tampa Bay's first drive-through Panera opened a year ago in Port Richey at 9405 U.S. 19, across from the Gulf View Square Mall, and became an instant hit among moms with kids in the minivan and workers in a hurry.
St. Louis-based Panera Bread began a push toward drive-throughs a few years ago as a way to boost sales and better compete in the growing field of fast-casual restaurants focused on good, healthy food served fast. By the end of 2011, Panera had about 120 drive-through locations nationwide and planned to add another 50 last year, based on the most recent figures available.
Offering customers the convenience of staying inside their cars puts Panera more in line with McDonald's, Chick-fil-A and other more traditional fast-food chains that have peppered their menus with new salads, gourmet sandwiches and other fresh food menu items.
The Tampa location is one of 27 in the Tampa Bay area owned by Covelli Enterprises. The Warren, Ohio-based franchise company has 250 Panera Breads in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida and Canada, making it the largest Panera franchisee.
In all, Panera Bread Company owns and franchises 1,673 restaurants under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Cafe names. The chain's revenue grew 13 percent to $561.8 million in the first quarter of this year compared with last year but missed analysts' forecasts. It plans to add up to 125 new locations this year, many of them with drive-throughs.