South County Times
September 17, 2010
By Don Corrigan
While the economic situation for many cities remains cloudy, a big silver lining for the city of Sunset Hills is the arrival of the corporate headquarters of the ever-expanding Panera Bread Company.
The move will bring 375 Panera employees into Sunset Hills at the office building at 3630 South Geyer Road. They will be using local gas stations, book stores, hardware stores and other retail outlets — and likely eating lunch at their company’s location in Sunset Plaza.
In 1993, Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. purchased Saint Louis Bread Company, a chain of 20 bakery-cafes located in St. Louis. The company then managed a comprehensive re-staging of Saint Louis Bread Co. Between 1993 and 1997 average unit volumes grew remarkably. Ultimately the bakery concept’s name was changed to Panera Bread.
Sunset Hills employees will not be far from what is often credited as the company’s first St. Louis Bread location in nearby Kirkwood. That bakery-cafe is at 10312 Manchester Road. Panera Bread now owns and franchises more than 1,300 bakery-cafes in 40 states and Canada.
“Sunset Hills will be our new national corporate headquarters, or our international headquarters, when you consider our Canadian locations,” explained Becky Fine, a senior vice president for Panera Bread. “Sunset Hills has welcomed us with open arms, and we are very pleased about the move.”
The move will be official on Sept. 27 with the new address and new phone numbers going into effect on that date. However, Fine said the entire move will not be complete until later in October.
“We really outgrew our Richmond Heights location in late 2005, and then we started spilling out into offices in Brentwood,” said Fine. “It will be neat to be consolidated and all together in one location.
Panera has a strong history of community involvement, and many of those activities will be coordinated out of the Sunset Hills location. In 2009, Panera Bread bakery-cafes donated a retail value of more than $50 million worth of bread and baked goods to charitable organizations that feed those in need. Many of these organizations are served by Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
New Signs, New Look
Panera hopes to hang its own shingle on the Sunset Hills location by Thanksgiving. Fine said Panera has been working with Sunset Hills officials to meet any sign regulations within the city.
“We will have a monument-type logo for Panera that will be clearly visible for those traveling on Geyer and on Watson,” said Fine. “There also will be a headquarters’ sign on the employee entrance side that faces in the direction of Laumeier.
“Incidentally, our employees are very excited about being close to Laumeier Sculpture Park,” added Fine. “We expect that employees will be bringing their walking shoes to work to use Laumeier before and after work. It’s also going to be a fine place to go at lunch breaks. We have been talking with Laumeier to make sure that these kinds of activities are opportune for everyone involved.”
In addition to those signs, Fine said there is substantial interior work taking place in the offices near the corner of South Geyer and Watson roads.
“We are completing significant remodeling to make it a welcoming place and to get away from a typical starchy, gray environment that a lot of offices have,” said Fine. “We are actually implementing a cafe look that resembles what people see when they go into our locations. There will be nice chairs and tables. It’s going to provide a warm feeling to work in.
“Our employees are excited about the interior design, but I have to say they are most excited about the outdoors,” said Fine. “They like the idea of being able to look out on trees and to be close to greenery. And they also like the convenience of getting here, after many of them endured the great Highway 40 shutdown.”
Near the intersection of I-44 and I-270, the new headquarters will be close to the green spaces of Laumeier in Sunset Hills and Powder Valley Nature Center and Emmenegger Park in Kirkwood.
Sunset Hills Boost
According to Stephen Webb, chairperson for the Sunset Hills Business Development Committee (BDC), the arrival of Panera’s headquarters is welcome news after a loss of the Anheuser-Busch (A-B) employees in that corner of the city in December 2008.
“It was a hit when A-B moved its employees out of Sunset Hills,” said Webb. “I am sure some of the retailers noticed it. So, it’s good news to have Panera coming here.”
Webb said Sunset Hills has had a packet of welcome materials for new residents of the city, and he said the BDC is developing a welcome packet for new employees moving into the city.
“We hope to have a welcome packet with directories and coupons and maps that we can hand directly to the Panera employees coming here,” said Webb. “Sunset Hills has a lot to offer. We are going to make sure that the Panera employees know all that we have to offer. We welcome them.”
Bill Nolan, mayor of Sunset Hills, said that Panera officials told him that as many as 600 employees could be in his city within two years.
“The city could not be any happier,” said Nolan. “We know that the people who work in our city have a major impact on local businesses and it’s a good impact. Sunset Hills also is a great place to live, so we expect we will have some new residents out of this eventually.”