LUMBERTON — Panera Bread got off to a quick start when the bakery and cafe opened its doors for the first time on Wednesday at 6 a.m. to a crowd of 75 customers waiting to order.
That line actually began forming at about 9 p.m. on Tuesday as fans of the eatery camped at outside, according to Paul Long, general manager.
Joe Montgomery, Panera Bread regional director, said the company’s mantra is “food as it should be.”
“We believe in raising, serving and eating food that is good for you — food that we’d be happy to serve our families,” Montgomery said.
Panera Bread occupies a 4,300-square-feet section of the former Office Depot building, located at 5080 Fayetteville Road. It is open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.
The Lumberton eatery is among 1,800 Panera Bread locations across the U.S. that offer fresh-baked breads and pastries, along with sandwiches, soups, salads, and pasta. The menu includes fruit cups, quiche, cakes, brownies, cookies, a variety of breakfast sandwiches and vegetarian selections.
Sandwiches range from $8 to $9.50, although items on the kids’ menu start at $4.50. Salads cost about $8 to $9.
“I talked to probably 20 to 25 other restaurants in the area and all of them were nationally leading at least about 20 percent in their brand,” Montgomery said.
Before the official opening, the restaurant held a fundraiser on Tuesday evening through its drive-through service, raising approximately $1,800 for the Lumberton Christian Care Center.
The line of cars was wrapped around the building, according to Long, who said the company has a commitment to give back to the community.
The store bakes fresh breads and pastries every day, so any baked goods not sold at the end of the day are donated to local charities that help feed those in need and homeless, Montgomery said.
Panera has hired 67 employees and expects to hire more, Long said. More than 900 people applied for employment with the Lumberton restaurant.
The restaurant chain is regularly selected by media outlets as one of the best places to work. In 2015 Forbes magazine placed Panera in it’s “Top 20 Places To Work In Retail” list while The Motley Fool ranked it among the best 25 employers in America.
“We do what’s right for the guests,” Long said.
Montgomery said he began looking at the Lumberton site about 18 months ago. Its proximity to Interstate 95, along with a favorable market study, convinced him the restaurant would do well here.
The Fayetteville Road building became vacant Jan. 23 after Office Depot was shuttered as part of a company-wide consolidation. The Lumberton location was one of almost 400 stores closed by the company since 2014. The space has since been divided into three, with Panera and Mattress Firm now occupying two storefronts.
The third storefront is vacant.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.