Panera franchisee Greg Anderson explains his plans to bring the restaurant chain to St. Robert.
SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (July 6, 2010) — Local hotel owner Steve Ehrhardt tried years ago to get Panera Bread to come to the Fort Leonard Wood area when he built a commercial mall on St. Robert Boulevard that now houses a Blockbuster video rental store.
That location wasn’t right for Panera franchise owner Greg Anderson of Camdenton, who already owned Panera franchises in Jefferson City, Rolla and Osage Beach, but on Tuesday, Anderson and Ehrhardt announced that they’ll be opening a Panera Bread franchise on the former Ramada Inn intersection bordered by Old Route 66, Missouri Avenue and Exit 161 of Interstate 44.
“I think it’s important to recognize that we’ve actually been looking in this market probably for four to five years. I’ve been coming here periodically, I drive the streets, I talk to realtors over the years and I’ve always felt as though this particular corner is really a great spot to put a Panera if the opportunity ever presented itself, and it has, so we’re really excited about that,” Anderson said. “I think patience is paying off for us; this is the right place for us to be relative to the community and relative to the highway system.”
The former Ramada location is at one of the city’s busiest intersections, and Anderson said that’s just what he wants to reach the military market. Unlike the Rolla location and most other Panera Bread facilities, the St. Robert location will have a drive-through window targeting people on their way to Fort Leonard Wood. The St. Robert Panera location will be one of only about three dozen drive-throughs nationwide out of a total of 1,388 Panera franchises, Anderson said.
Hours aren’t yet determined, Anderson said, but will be early enough to reach the military market of servicemembers driving down Missouri Avenue to reach Fort Leonard Wood’s main gate.
“We’re going to start pretty early, I hope, and we want to be able to catch all the coffee drinkers going into the base,” Anderson said. “I’m sure we’ll be probably be open until at least 9 p.m.; you won’t be able to get away from us. It is an all-day opportunity for our guests.”
Anderson said he’s been a Panera franchisee since he opened the Jefferson City facility 13 years ago, and now owns a number of facilities in Missouri as well as the South.
Unlike many national brand-name restaurants and other food retailers, Panera has a loyal following, Anderson said, and that’s caused people to drive all the way from Fort Leonard Wood to buy bagels and other food products at his Rolla location.
“If you follow Panera Bread at all, I think … you’ll find we’ve developed a very loyal following which I think is a key piece of our business. It’s not unusual for our guests to eat with us three, four or five times a week,” Anderson said. “We get a lot of customers in our Rolla store already and I’m sure some won’t have to travel that 20 miles now.”
“There may still be reasons to go to Rolla, but hopefully when it comes to finding a bagel or a loaf of bread or a great sandwich or salad you can find it right here in town,” Anderson said.
Responding to media questions, Anderson said the new store will differ from the Rolla store not only because of the drive-through but also because it will be “latest generation in terms of its design.” The store will be 4,000 square feet with 95 seats, about 600 square feet smaller than the Rolla store which has 110 seats.
The new location isn’t expected to be a problem for the Rolla location, Anderson said.
“We do think that we might see a bit of a dip but we don’t think it’s going to be significant. We do see some military folks in there on the weekend and things throughout the week and we do some catering already from the Rolla location into the Fort Wood and St. Robert area,” Anderson said. “There is a likelihood that we might see a little bit of a dip but we’re not expecting much of one.”
Construction is expected to begin in September with a goal of being open by the end of the year, Anderson said.
The presence of the military community and the location next to a major cross-country interstate were both key factors in the decision to locate in St. Robert, Anderson said, since people living in or travelling through the area are likely to be familiar with the Panera brand.
However, Anderson said he had difficulty doing market research for similar restaurants near military installations in rural areas since many installations the size of Fort Leonard Wood are in or near larger cities.
“This is a little bit groundbreaking as well being right outside (an installation),” Anderson said. “There’s one fellow franchisee who’s getting ready to develop a unit in Fayetteville, N.C. (near Fort Bragg). When we tried to get into the research and really look at the demographics, it wasn’t easy to find a military base married up with a community this size. You can find military bases with much larger communities, so much larger that they might actually have two or three Paneras.”
Even though putting a Panera outside a military installation in a very rural area may be “groundbreaking,” Anderson said he knows the community well enough to believe it’s a solid decision.
“The demographics which we looked at all indicate that we should be very successful,” Anderson said. “All these folks that come in every weekend, obviously they’ll be coming from communities that already have a Panera. I think the brand will do a lot.”
Several more spots are available for additional retail businesses on the site. Ehrhardt Properties will be leasing rather than selling the land to Anderson, and Erhardt said he is working to bring another restaurant and a convenience store or pharmacy to the location as well.
“We don’t know exactly who all of our neighbors are going to be yet, but whoever they are, we think the entire development is going to be a great contribution to the area,” Anderson said.
“There are several individuals we are talking to, and hopefully we’ll have some positive announcements in the coming months,” Ehrhardt said.