That's one reason why the casual bakery-cafe operation was the third-fastest growing restaurant chain in 2000, according to consultancy Technomic. System-wide sales rose 74% to $351 million last year.
Although the marketer began testing TV last year with spots from Seattle's Heckler Associates (which also has worked with Starbucks), marketing primarily is done the Old World way: by breaking bread. "We hand out baguettes prior to opening the bakery-cafe," says the 43-year-old Mr. Kupstas, a six-year company veteran. "We've been around for 13 years in St. Louis and until three years ago we never advertised."
When urban French bakery Au Bon Pain bought St. Louis Bread Co. in 1999, management knew on which side its bread was buttered. It renamed the newly combined company Panera (Latin for bread basket) and later in 1999 sold its namesake chain, Au Bon Pain, to an investment company.
With Panera's suburban residential and office park locations, it's a concept that's very "on trend," says Fitzhugh Taylor, an analyst for Banc of America Securities. "They have high-quality sandwiches, soups and salads at price points and a convenience level that rival quick-service restaurants."
Part of Panera's appeal comes from what the company saw as an opportunity to own a daypart Starbucks first created-to give the estimated 28 million Americans who don't have offices a place to conduct business or have personal space. Mr. Kupstas calls it the "chill-out" business.