I Love Panera Bread. There, I said it.
I love Panera Bread. There, I said it. It feels good to get this off my chest. I am a left-leaning (read: democratic socialist) historian of American corporate capitalism. I write about the homogenization of American life under the auspices of the culture industry. I rail against the conformist anomie to be found in hierarchical managerialism. I lament the fall of the agrarian populists in the 1896 election, the last true and great challenger to American corporate hegemony. (Please don’t get me started on the New Deal.)
And I love Panera Bread. I love the warm, earthy, focus-group-based decor. I love the Chocolate Chip Muffie (320 cal). I love the bottomless hazelnut coffee. (Are there even free refills? Am I stealing? God, I love how lawless Panera Bread makes me feel.) I wish I could bathe myself in their Vegetarian Creamy Tomato soup (280 cal).
The bread is pretty good too. In fact, I like the bread so much, when I order a Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich (700 cal) and they ask me which side I want, I don’t take the apple or the chips. I take more bread. Have you tried the Mac and Cheese lately (900 cal)? I haven’t seen such mass-production genius since the Ford Model T. It’s true, the salads are awful. But are you really going to blame Panera bread for that? All salads in America are awful. It’s structural.
Baudrillard once said that Disneyland was the most authentic place in America. It’s certainly possible. But Panera Bread is the best place in America. What does “Panera” even mean? Dear God, their focus groups are good. They A/B tested the shit out of that one. Panera. Is it supposed to sound Italian? I tried to name my third child Panera. My wife wouldn’t have it. Then again, when my wife goes to Panera Bread, she orders the Chinese Citrus Cashew Salad (540 cal). Clearly, she has terrible taste.
Two and a half years ago, after six years in the States, I moved back to Israel, where I had grown up since the year 6 AP (AP = After Panera — that’s 1993, for those of you who for some goddamn reason don’t know that the first Panera Bread was founded in 1987 by a god named Ken Rosenthal in Kirkland, Missouri).
The move back has had its up and downs. The weather — incredible. The slow descent into fascist ethnocracy — not so hot. I’ve mostly settled into the fact that I will never see a live NBA game at a sports bar again. (There are no sports bars, as there are no TVs in the bars. Also, games are at 3:00 AM.) But God do I miss Panera. I’ve tried to find a way to fill the Asiago Cheese Bagel-sized hole (330 cal) that Panera left in my heart. But to no avail. Yet they will never bring a Panera here. Starbucks failed here. Dunkin Donuts failed here. Israel is where American coffee goes to die.
They don’t even have a Panera in Europe yet. WTF? The closest Panera Bread to my house is in Virginia Beach, VA. (I checked on a map.) This will not do.
But even when Paneras do start popping up in Europe, I doubt they will come here. With the Middle East in such horrible, unstable shape, I don’t think Panera has the economies of scale to make this work. (I bet you that Panera is great at cost-accounting and reducing overhead.) It’s not easy to efficiently deliver fresh, delicious “fast casual” food through IDF checkpoints, ISIS hostage areas, or Syrian wastelands.
I hope there will be peace in the Middle East soon. If not for the people, then at least for the Panera.