The Panera Era Begins

10 Nov

Panera Bread has finally opened up in the space formerly occupied by Zathmary’s. Now, I know you’re not supposed to embrace national chain stores opening up in Coolidge Corner, but as these types of places go, I have to say I think Panera makes a great addition to the area. After all, it’s hard to get too upset about a new chain opening when it’s one like Panera and not a new McDonald’s or another coffee place. Between this and the Citibank and Qdoba next door, they’ve given new life to that chunk of the sidewalk with their clean, modern looks, and I welcome a new food option that actually offers good food, as opposed to the unhealthy Quizno’s or the cramped unworthiness of Finagle-a-Bagel.

I stopped into Panera for lunch today and it was a total madhouse (not surprisingly). Finding a table to sit at was about as hard as finding a parking spot at the mall at Christmastime. And sure, it wasn’t just the newness of the place, but because it all was so clean and bright and (I guess) generic, I forgot for a while that I was still in Coolidge Corner. But on the good side, despite the crowds, I have to say the service was awesome. Not only did the line to order move quickly, but managers were nice and overly accommodating, and they made sure tables were cleaned off the second they were free, or that dirty plates were picked up when customers were finished with them. If you ate in, as I did, your food was brought to your table with a smile. And my sandwich itself — smoked turkey on toasted French bread — was tasty, as was the chocolate chip cookie I had for dessert. Not that my experience was perfect, mind you, and I know full well that this level of service won’t last, but I wasn’t disappointed (as I had been with other new stores recently).

I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Panera — although the French Toast bagel with a hint of cream cheese that I had last year in Chicago was one of the best bagels of all time — but I’m happy to have another option for lunch on Saturdays or a quick bite on the way home from work at night. It might not entirely feel like a Coolidge Corner store, and I wish there was more seating available, but I say welcome to Brookline, Panera. It’s good to have you here.

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