Panera Bread, a bakery-cafe that bakes its breads and pastries on site daily, is set to open at 6 a.m. today at the Madonna Plaza shopping center in San Luis Obispo.
The restaurant is the fifth Panera franchise location for First Picks Management, whose CEO and majority owner is ESPN commentator and ex-NFL player Keyshawn Johnson.
“The community deserves something like Panera,” said Johnson, who cited the appeal of Panera’s healthy salads, as well as fresh bread and cheese.
He has been working on getting Panera into the Madonna Plaza location for two years. The cafe has created 75 full-time and part-time jobs, and the management team consists of locals, according to Ingrid Roberts, managing director of First Picks.
Johnson, who lives in Los Angeles, said he’ll be visiting San Luis Obispo “all the time,” especially because he is scouting out possible Paso Robles locations to open another Panera restaurant in San Luis Obispo County.
He does not know when a Paso Robles Panera might open, but intends to keep expanding within the Central Coast, he said.
The next nearest Panera Bread restaurant is in Santa Maria.
Johnson was the first pick by the New York Jets in the 1996 NFL Draft, which is why he named his company “First Picks.” The company holds the franchise rights for Panera Bread on the Central Coast, including San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Roberts said in a previous Tribune report.
Johnson declined to reveal annual revenues or profits for First Picks, which operates several other food service and hospitality establishments and is a joint venture partner for the upcoming reality television series “Big Man on Campus,” which tracks high school football stars, according to First Picks’ website.
First Picks is leasing slightly more than half of the 6,400-square-foot building at 299 Madonna Road, said architect George Garcia of Garcia Architecture and Design, which completed the building’s initial renovation after vacancy by previous tenants Heritage Oaks Bank and financial planners Blakeslee and Blakeslee.
The rest of the location remains vacant.
Garcia said that after gutting the triangular-shaped, quasi-modernist building to expose ceiling trusses, the original stained-glass windows were kept while the structure was refinished in a “modern mission style,” with a terra-cotta-colored roof and indigenous materials.
Panera Bread was established in 1981 and is headquartered in Richmond Heights, Mo., according to the company’s website.
It operated 1,453 locations in 40 states and Ontario, Canada, as of Dec. 28 under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café names.
— Julia Hickey
EVC picks new board members
The Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County has appointed six new members to its 32-person board, which is composed of business community leaders and one elected official from each of the seven cities and the county Board of Supervisors. The new members are: San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Carpenter; Pacific Coast Business Times founder and Editor Henry Dubroff; KCOY CBS 12/FOX 11 television General Manager Kevin Harlan; Atascadero City Councilman Bob Kelley; Morro Bay City Councilman George Leage; and Grover Beach City Councilwoman Debbie Peterson.
EVC is a nonprofit economic development organization that provides business resources to help start and expand businesses throughout the county.
— Julia Hickey