CHEYENNE – The wait for Panera Bread is almost over.
The café, which has been anticipated for more than a year near the northwest corner of Dell Range and Windmill Road, is set to open April 8 after setbacks related to permitting, challenges with the site, a change in ownership and weather delays.
“It’s been one thing after another, like every construction thing is,” said Athena Osgood, general manager of the new store. “But it’s not moving any more. April 8 is the day. We are 100 percent opening that day.”
Osgood sat in a small trailer in front of the store Tuesday, meeting with newly hired employees while construction workers busily worked on the store, which was still surrounded by scaffolding. She had hired 22 employees as of Tuesday, with a goal of hiring a total of 70 people.
“I’m looking for outgoing, fun, unique people that like to work hard and get the tough stuff done but have a good time doing it,” Osgood said, noting that she is building a diverse team including retired schoolteachers, high school students and people undergoing mid-career transitions.
A hiring fair is planned for 2-4 p.m. Tuesday at the temporary trailer in front of the café. Some of the new employees have been taking part in training in Fort Collins, Colorado, where Osgood previously was general manager of the Panera Bread on Council Tree Avenue.
The Cheyenne store is owned by Encinitas, California-based Manna Development Group, which took on the project when it acquired Breads of the World LLC in April.
That deal contributed to the delay in the project, which was originally expected to open by March 2018. It is the 135th Panera Bread café owned by the franchise group, which has “a handful of openings planned for 2019 and 2020,” according to Meghan Connaghan, marketing manager for Manna Colorado LLC.
NewMark Commercial Builders is the general contractor for the project, which includes a 7,170-square-foot steel structure with metal stud framing, according to the company’s website. The building is owned by Manna Development Group, which is leasing a portion of it to a Verizon store. Site improvements include retaining walls, sidewalks, parking lot and a detention pond.
Challenges related to managing stormwater runoff at the site were among factors contributing to delays in the permitting process.
“They chose a challenging site for development, so that had a lot to do with it. It’s made us realize that we can and need to do better,” Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said.
City officials have taken steps to improve communication among city departments to streamline the permitting process for new development, she said.
Panera Bread began in the 1980s with a menu centering on bread baked fresh daily and unsold bread donated to those in need each evening. Today, more than 2,000 Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Company bakery-cafes are operated by the company and franchise groups in the U.S. and Canada, according to the company’s website.
“Our guests love our You Pick Two, which allows guests to choose two options from our lists of sandwiches, flatbreads, soups, mac and cheese and salads,” Connaghan said in an email.
Osgood’s favorite menu item is the Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich, but she said the environment is what sets Panera Bread apart.
“You can come to Panera, get a cup of coffee and a bagel at 7 a.m. and sit and do all of your work for the entire day and no one will ever make you leave,” she said. “They’ll ask to refill your coffee, if you want. But it’s just that welcoming, inviting environment that we provide.”
Along with its “Day-End Dough-Nations” to food banks, shelters and others in needs, the company is active in community outreach, including fundraising nights for local schools and organizations, service projects and community events.
Osgood has worked at Panera Bread cafés for about 13 years, starting in Richmond, Virginia. She moved to Fort Collins about four years ago, starting as an assistant manager at the store there and being promoted to general manager about two years ago.
“The excitement that comes from opening a brand-new Panera is just so addicting,” she said. “Everything is brand new. You get to open everything. You get to organize it how you want, set up for the perfect efficient store. I’m all about efficiency and having a great time at work and just having everything flow.”
Teams of managers will come from California and Colorado to help with the opening, starting with training a week before opening day and continuing for the first two weeks the restaurant is open.
“We’ll have an insane amount of support,” Osgood said.
A grand opening celebration is planned for April 22, when the first 200 guests to sign up for MyPanera loyalty cards will receive sustainable coffee cups and coupons for three free coffee refills.
The Cheyenne café is the brand’s first step into Wyoming, and Osgood expects more stores eventually will open in the state, including in Laramie and Casper.
Jonna Lorenz is a freelance journalist living in Cheyenne who has more than 20 years of experience. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.