Panera Bakers See Day as Staff Shifts for Fresher Bagels

Panera Bread Co. is moving its bakers into the limelight -- and the daylight.

The 6,000 bakers who work in the 1,800 Panera cafes across the U.S. will switch from overnight shifts to daytime hours in an effort to provide fresher pastries, Tom Gumpel, St. Louis-based Panera’s head baker, said in an interview. The move, which will be complete by the end of the year, also allows Panera to make food as it’s needed and may result in less waste, he said.

“Stuff is now fresher, or, at best, even warm,” he said. In the past, customers have asked where the bakers are, and it’s “kind of been our little secret. That ends now.”

Panera, which has more than doubled revenue since 2007 selling breakfast and lunch fare to Americans, has recently struggled to keep up with long lines of customers during busy times. This year, it is working on in-cafe kiosks, a new website and a mobile-ordering application to make it easier and faster for people to get in and out of restaurants.

The idea for the shift in bakers’ hours came from Panera’s new test bakeries at two Connecticut cafes that both opened last year. The locations have a dedicated area where bakers cook up new foods and see whether customers like them. Right now, bakers in those two locations are experimenting with how to best put fresh blueberries into different pastries, Gumpel said.

“Our craft is on display,” he said. “You’re literally baking stuff, pulling it out of the oven, and you can smell it.”

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