Students Welcome New Branch of Panera in Harvard Square

UPDATED: April 20, 2012, at 2:04 a.m.

After months of anticipation and construction, Panera Bread opened its newest branch at 1288 Mass. Ave. last Monday.

Although the restaurant has been open for only a few days, students have already eagerly flocked to the eatery.

“I went there three times in the first two days that it opened,” Matthew O. Ricotta ’15 said.

Countless other students echoed the same story as they proudly listed their numerous visits.

Many students attributed their visits to Panera’s cozy atmosphere. Andrew N. Sklar, Panera district manager in Boston, noted that the restaurant’s warm interior lends itself both to quick meals and lengthy study sessions.

The upstairs portion features two fireplaces, a spacious seating area, and large windows overlooking Mass. Ave. Downstairs, students can lounge in the outdoor seats that line the sidewalk.

According to Sklar, the construction team needed to work around the original structure to maintain the historic value of the old building. But ultimately, construction progressed smoothly to create the two floors used today.

“We’ve done a great job of designing our building to fit the neighborhood,” Sklar said.

Panera’s food offerings have also attracted students to the Harvard Square location. Although students listed a wide range of favorite dishes at Panera, Sklar foresees that the restaurant will need to stock up on certain foods in the next few weeks.

Sklar listed macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cheddar soup, and Panera’s famous bread bowls as particularly popular around college campuses. He also anticipated that coffee would be popular, given how much Harvard students study.

Elaine Cheng ’15 said that she also loves Panera’s food and appreciates the moderate pricing.

Yet others complained about the expense.

“Panera’s food sounds delicious, but it’s way too expensive,” Erik F. Bakke ’15 said. “What we need is a Mickey D’s. I miss French fries.”

But Sklar said that Panera’s fresh food differentiates the restaurant from its competitors.

According to Sklar, Panera controls its supply chain to allow fresh ingredients to travel quickly from producers to its restaurants. “Our lettuce goes faster from farm to fork than any other chain,” Sklar said.

Likewise, Zachary G. Butland, a day baker at the restaurant, noted that Panera’s staff constantly produces fresh breads and pastries to ensure that new baked goods are on their shelves every few hours, not just every day.

Although Panera will undoubtedly face competition from other restaurants in the Square, Sklar appeared unfazed. “There’s plenty of business for everyone,” he said. “There’s certainly no shortage of people.”

With a unique menu and atmosphere, he added, “we feel that we can be a great part of the community.”

—Staff writer Laura K. Reston can be reached at laurareston@college.harvard.edu.

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