Panera Bread opened its new La Cañada Flintridge store Tuesday, drawing hungry patrons eager to sample menu items that include a Fuji apple chicken salad and a turkey artichoke sandwich.
The bakery and cafe is the latest addition to the Town Center, at the northeast corner of Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway, home to the Sport Chalet headquarters and several other retailers and eateries.
"We have been really anxious to get it open," store manager Layla Tabata said. "It has been a year-and-a-half process — getting the building, getting everything in here, getting all the permits for it."
Panera Bread, a national chain, is known for specialty baked goods and cafe offerings, including artisan breads and pastries. Regular business hours will be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.
Digging her fork into a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad, La Crescenta resident Kim Chatham said she anticipated becoming a regular customer.
"It's not a hard sell…I like that they have kids' meals," Chatham said.
Panera Bread is a quick and convenient lunch stop with healthy options, said patron Anna Sheklow.
"I love that their food is so fresh," Sheklow said. "And we don't have a lot of fabulous food places that we haven't eaten at 10,000 times in the area, so it is always exciting to have a new restaurant in the La Crescenta-La Cañada area."
Anticipation surrounding the new eatery has been building since it was leaked last year that the company was negotiating a lease for space in the Town Center. Contractors began installing kitchen equipment, countertops and booths in early June.
The reception from the local community has been positive, Tabata said, adding that people stopped by in the days leading up to the opening to check on the store's status. She said she expects large crowds in the coming weeks as foothill residents and business people come in to check out the new cafe.
The Panera Bread product complements the community, said Pat Anderson, chief executive officer of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce. And the store provides additional jobs (the company hired 50 people to staff the new location), she said.
"I think its reputation precedes itself," Anderson said. "Many people that I have spoken with are very upbeat about Panera coming. They are excited because they have been to a Panera and they have experienced it."
She also hopes the cafe and bakery will help drive sales revenue for the city, she said.
"I think it is going to bring additional folks into our city, and we always hope that after they have had their lunch they will put gas in their car and maybe do a little extra shopping while they are here," Anderson said.
Barbara Marshall, a past board chair of the Chamber of Commerce, said Panera Bread will fill a much-needed void in La Cañada.
"I think everyone is so excited to have one more place to eat in town, plus a bakery," Marshall said. "We have not had a place to come and get baked goods. You can run over here in the morning when you get to work."