OTTAWA—Popular restaurant chain Panera Bread opened its first bakery-café in Ottawa on Wednesday offering healthy artisan bread and handcrafted sandwiches all served fast, fresh, and with a bit of flare.
It was a successful opening day judging by the lineup both in the restaurant and at the drive-thru at lunchtime at the 320 West Hunt Club Road location near Merivale.
The U.S.-based chain runs some 1,736 bakery-cafés in the United States and Canada that are either company-owned or franchise-operated, based on September 2013 figures. It started making its way north in 2008 and has so far opened 13 restaurants in Ontario mainly in the Toronto area.
Panera Bread is part of the growing trend of “fast casual” restaurants coming to Canada. “Fast casual” means it does not provide regular table service but offers higher quality food and a warmer atmosphere than a fast food restaurant.
Panera’s earth-toned decor features tall booths as well as tables, a warm and cozy fireplace, and a relaxed you-don’t-need-to-eat-and-get-out ambiance. Some describe the restaurant as a second office for those with the freedom to work where they like, thanks to the free Wi-Fi.
“Fast casual” also means quick made-to-order meals like panini sandwiches with premium ingredients layered on artisan bread made from scratch daily.
In addition to gourmet sandwiches and freshly baked breads, Panera also offers a large variety of other healthy menu items such as salads, soups, and fresh baked muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls, and more.
While the menu options may sound typical, the ingredients are not.
For those looking for a tasty lunch outside the box, there is a Fuji apple salad with antibiotic-free chicken, Gorgonzola cheese, apple chips, and white balsamic apple vinaigrette.
Heartier fare includes the Asiago Steak Sandwich with seared steak, smoked cheddar cheese, and creamy horseradish sauce on an Asiago Cheese Demi roll.
Panera Bread has earned a name for itself winning multiple awards and recognitions over the years.
In 2013 it was named “Culinary/Operations, National Chain Winner” in the COEX Innovation Awards, a recognition given annually by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association to honour leading chain operators.
In 2012 the chain was named “Casual Dining Brand of the Year” by Harris Poll EquiTrend, as well as No. 1 “Attractive/Inviting Restaurant Among Excellent Large Fast-Food Chains” by Sandelman & Associates.
Among its earlier recognitions was being named No. 1 “Healthiest for Eating on the Go” by Health Magazine in 2009.