Cookies to Pastries, to Bread, Oh My!
Ron Shaich’s name is synonymous with food. The founder of Au Bon Pain and Panera Bread, he pioneered the “fast-casual” dining experience. Shaich looked at pockets of opportunity in Boston in the 1980s, where he partnered with Au Bon Pain Bakeries, a business three million in debt. He pulled them from the brink and transformed them into a successful business. A Bakery-Café was born as customers fell in love with croissants filled with beef and cheese. By 1991 they were a success and began opening hundreds of cafes.
But Ron didn’t stop there. In 1993 they acquired St. Louis Bread Company, recognizing the popularity and potential of the company’s sourdough bread. By the mid-90s Shaich recognized a growing customer preference for an eating experience that made them feel good about themselves and the eating choices they make. They renamed the St. Louis Bread Company Panera Breads and focused on cultivating the customer experience. Moving forward to 2010s, Shaich sold Panera Bread for $7.5 billion and started Act III holdings to fund a range of fast-casual restaurants across the U.S, emphasizing the need for businesses to connect with their customers and not be focused on capital.
Shaich’s biggest challenge was perhaps navigating and rejecting the conventional Wall Street wisdom of focusing on immediate profit. Rather, he had a long-term vision of what a “fast-casual” dining experience should mean, and ways a brand can truly connect with its customers. He also emphasized the importance of differentiating a brand with a competitive advantage. By watching market trends and adapting to customer preferences, Shaich was able to build a successful business from the ground up.