Panera CEO: ‘They’ll need to carry me out with my boots on’

Panera to banish artificial ingredients (Image 1)

NEW YORK (AP) — Panera Bread fans shouldn’t see any changes as a result of the chain’s sale, according to its founder and CEO, who is staying on as its leader.

The sale to JAB Holdings for more than $7 billion will allow management to focus on transformational efforts including the expansion of delivery and digital ordering, said CEO Ron Shaich. JAB also owns Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Keurig Green Mountain. Panera also said Wednesday that its sales rose 5.3 percent at established, company-owned locations in the first quarter, outperforming the broader restaurant industry.

Here’s what Shaich had to say Wednesday morning in a phone interview after the deal was announced, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did this deal come about?

A: We weren’t looking for this. Panera’s on an extraordinary run. That performance has been because we always operated in the context of long-term strategy. (JAB) are people who share those values.

Many of these deals happen when people feel weak. We’re doing this from a position of strength.

Q: Why is this deal good for customers?

A: I’ve been a public company CEO for over 20 years — longer than Cal Ripken played baseball. I spent 20 percent of that time explaining what I just did, and 20 percent of the time explaining what I’m about to do.

This is about competitive advantage. It gives us the ability to focus intensely on our strategic plan.

Q: What can people expect to change in Panera restaurants as a result of this deal?

A: JAB has got about 12 people in their holding company. They’re long-term private investors, they’re not operators. I would say you can expect nothing different.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for the restaurant industry right now?

A: I never talk about the industry. My job is building a competitive advantage for Panera, literally getting customers to walk past the competition.

Q: You also sold Au Bon Pain in 1999. Do you still stop in at Au Bon Pain restaurants and think about what you’d do differently?

A: The folks that run Au Bon Pain are very old friends. The CEO for many years is the woman who introduced me to my wife. I try to avoid commenting on friends.

Q: You’re 63. How much longer do you think you’ll stay on as CEO?

A: I’m here and I’m doing this. They’ll need to carry me out with my boots on.

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