Now that I’m on the final legs of my program at Queen’s, all I need to do each day is find a space that’s conducive to three-hour chunks of undisturbed writing time. In the summer, work can be such a pleasure, hunkering down at the secret garden patio of David’s Tea or the backyard oasis at Musiikki. These, however, are not solutions in deep-freeze weather. Some downtown coffee shops can’t even make the cut on drafty days; bracing myself for sporadic gusts of wind indoors is a slow, shivery ordeal. And so, with many of my favourite haunts too frosty for productivity, I’ve been seeking greener pastures.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve found warmth and just the right amount of ambient noise at Panera Bread. Located in the city’s north end, it neighbours Landmark Cinemas, Canadian Tire, and No Frills, and will soon be joined by a Pita Pit drive-thru and a spankin-new LCBO. The environment welcomes families rushing in for a pre-movie supper, staff from local businesses enjoying a quick lunch, and lone wolves like myself, who want to type away in solitude. Inside Panera is a roomy, bright space, with ample seating and natural sunlight. On a cold day, I can work comfortably in a sweater, shedding my scarf and toque in the glow of the gas fireplace.
The most noticeable thing upon arriving is the staff, who are so darned chipper that even on my grumpiest days, I can’t help but smiling back at them. They’re so fast with bringing food to tables, cleaning them to make way for the steady influx of customers, and accommodating the most high maintenance requests with a smile – I would know, because I’m one of those high maintenance customers! I’ve had my reservations about this chain based the some negative experiences of a friend who works at Panera in a bigAmerican city, but in Kingston, people seem really happy to be part of the staff. Maybe it’s that Kingston customers are more civilized and less of a handful? It’s definitely a possibility, but one employee had another explanation. She had such a big smile on her face and that I had to ask her why: she said she was just so happy to work somewhere that smelled like fresh-baked goods all the time. Of course, I realized: carbs! Not only has Panera brought 60 jobs to a city that’s had a rough year-end with the closures of Target and Future Shop, it has also brought us sweet, delicious carbs.
Panera’s baked goods are baked in-house, day and night. On my last visit, I ordered a Chocolate Duet Cookie with walnuts. I saw that it was still on a cooling rack and I knew I had to try it, fresh out of the oven. It just about made my day. Everything else looks amazing but I have to admit: their labeling of the calorie content of each item steers me away from the brownie or pecan roll I would have ordered, had I not known that they were 500 and 740 calories, respectively. Panera is definitely trying to support healthier eating with the calorie-labeling initiative and featuring hearty Broth Bowls with fad-favourites like quinoa and kale, but in my opinion, it would be silly to go to carb heaven in pursuit of health food!
Looking around during the lunch rush, it was clear that most people order the Pick Two special: half a sandwich, a small order of pasta, a salad, or a “cup” of soup, which in Canadian sizing, we’d probably just call a bowl, because it is a bowl. It also comes with a baguette, bag of chips, or apple. Someone could probably do a psychological study on peoples’ choices: are you an apple person, or a chips person? I myself am a baguette person. On a cold winter’s day, there’s nothing more soothing than tucking into Panera’s Creamy Tomato Soup, outstanding herbed croutons floating on top, with a giant hunk of baguette for dipping. Seriously, I could bathe in the stuff. Tasting the chunky-crushed tomatoes between bites of buttered baguette is just heavenly, which is why I return so often!
I find ordering at Panera to be a paradox of choice: with so many permutations of sandwich/salad/pasta/soup pairings, I tell myself to try new variations, but always end up choosing Tomato Soup as one of my options! Most recently, I ordered a Caesar Salad to go with my soup, and I finally got to see what their “bowl” size looks like: it’s clear that the American sizing is larger than the average Canadian lunch portion. Incapable of finishing the giant salad when my attention was focused on the bone-warming soup and crunchy, flakey baguette, I felt guilty about the waste that these portions allow. Soon enough, however, I learned that Panera is conscious of how much food they’re producing, and they don’t let their bread go to waste: they proudly donate to Martha’s Table, the local food bank, and the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston. American import they might be, but Panera is resolutely establishing itself as a big giver in the Kingston community.
And the community loves Panera right back. Between 11:30 and 2, the restaurant fills up with every worker in the area who is trying to eat somewhere that doesn’t exclusively serve pizza, burgers, and French fries. Although I’ve never had trouble getting a table at lunchtime, I’ve had to wait in lines out the door to order. Fret not: they have an app which lets you order ahead, the restaurant itself has a drive-thru, which I wish had existed during my many childhood drives from Toronto to Montreal!
So, what are you waiting for? The next time you’re planning a trip to the movies, are about to take a long drive, or are just feeling that deep winter chill, visit Panera in for some heat, some sunlight, and some out-of-this-world tomato soup!
One thought on “Panera Bread”
Interesting. We enjoyed them in Minnesota. I recall them as too pricey for me. I would usually just get a couple bagels. Nice atmosphere to hang out in sometimes.
Managed IT Services