Every single staff member who worked at Panera Bread’s now-closed Cherry Creek location has relocated to the new Halsted Street restaurant, which opened Wednesday, March 20, according to general manager Jerry Powell.
Familiar faces behind the register might be the only consolation for local residents decrying closure of the older store, which had been at its Governors Highway location for at least 15 years.
Despite a letter-writing campaign initiated by Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld, corporate decision makers told him they won’t re-open the shuttered store. So Hofeld used his massive pair of scissors to cut a blue ribbon, officially opening the new Panera location.
“We were hoping Panera would maintain both locations, so this is bittersweet,” Hofeld said. “The community could have supported two locations. I thought the townspeople did a terrific job in reaching out to them, but in the end there was nothing we could do.”
Sporting the bakery-restaurant’s updated logo, the tidy squared brick building was developed by Andy Goodman, the businessman who also developed the sites for Portillo’s, Chick-fil-A and Potbelly in the Halsted Street corridor.
Goodman said he enjoys working with the Village of Homewood for its streamlined approach for development. Village officials make the process clear and communicate effectively to get the work done.
Developing the Panera site, which sits back from Halsted Street on 175th Street, also included demolishing the office building previously on the spot and relocating “legacy tenants” who remained.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and having the creative brain power makes it a lot easier to make it happen,” Goodman said.
With Panera’s Cherry Creek location now dark, Juan Perez of Homewood and Rob Carrier of Flossmoor met at the new location for their long-time morning ritual of coffee and conversation.
“We started at Three Brothers,” Carrier said. “Then we moved to Tom’s, and then Panera in Cherry Creek and now we’re here.”
They said they miss the old location and the people they would see every day. Perez said it would have been nice to see if Panera could maintain the two stores. He shrugged, “I don’t know. It was easy to park here,” he offered.
Powell, who was general manager at the Cherry Creek Panera Bread location for 12 years, said he’s excited about the new and updated equipment. After more than a decade, the other location’s equipment was breaking down regularly and he said he knew it was getting costly.
Plus, the new location has a drive-through, something Powell said he’s wanted for a long time. However, he will miss his previous customers who don’t want to drive to the new store or won’t like its atmosphere.
“That area is so homey,” Powell said. “We were right down the street from H-F (High School). I hired so many students from there and watched them grow into adults. Those relationships will be missed.”