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Panera Founder Shaich To Step Down as CEO; Company Buys Au Bon Pain

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Nov 14, 2017

Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich has been involved with issues that extend beyond the quick-service restaurant company, including healthy eating and food access. But he’s stepping down on Jan. 1, 2018, as CEO of the fast-casual restaurant company, mainly to focus on a problem that extends beyond the restaurant realm: what Shaich says is short-term thinking in capital markets and the national debate.

“This is the right time for me to step down as CEO while still staying involved in the business as chairman," Shaish said. "I returned in 2011 because our growth was slowing and we needed to reposition Panera as a better competitive alternative with expanded growth opportunities. And I’m happy to say we’ve done just that."

Blaine Hurst, Panera’s president and company veteran who has led many of its most significant innovations over the last half decade, will assume the position of CEO.

Hurst joined Panera in January 2011 as senior vice president of technology and transformation, charged with building the digital capabilities that would enable Panera 2.0 and Panera’s e-commerce platform. He was elected executive vice president of technology and transformation in May 2013, and executive vice president and chief transformation and growth officer in October, 2014. Hurst became president in December, 2016 when his responsibilities were expanded to include Panera’s core café business as well as its technology, delivery and catering organizations.

“Blaine has been a key player in our efforts to transform Panera during the past half-decade," said Shaich. "He is very well known and respected in our organization and in our industry for his innovative thinking, technological savvy and ability to drive change. After years of working with Blaine, I am very confident that under Blaine’s leadership Panera will continue to outperform the industry and make a real difference in the lives of our guests and team members.” Shaich will remain board chairman, allowing him to better allocate his time between Panera; initiatives for JAB, which acquired Panera in July; and his personal investments and interests. and focus on working to reduce the pervasive short-term thinking in the company's capital markets and national debate.

He will be a significant investor in the company and will continue to work on Panera's strategy, communications and acquisitions as well as pursue causes important to him.

Meanwhile, Panera also announced (on Nov. 8) it's buying Au Bon Pain, bringing together two chains Shaich helped build. The company agreed to acquire Au Bon Pain Holding Co. Inc., parent company of bakery-cafe chain Au Bon Pain, Boston, which will become part of Panera’s initiative to intensify growth in new real estate channels, including hospitals, universities, transportation centers and urban locations, among others. Au Bon Pain has 304 units worldwide.

The acquisition will bring Au Bon Pain and Panera together again. Shaich, 63, Panera’s founder, and his late partner Louis Kane, created Au Bon Pain Co. Inc. in 1981. The company went public in 1991 and acquired Saint Louis Bread Co. in 1993. Saint Louis Bread was renamed Panera and, in 1999, Au Bon Pain was sold so that all human and capital resources available at that time could be focused on Panera.

"This acquisition offers the strategic opportunity for us to grow in several new real estate channels, including hospitals, universities, transportation centers and urban locations, among others.” noted Shaich. The companies didn't disclose how much Panera was paying for Au Bon Pain.