By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Perrin Sizemore didn’t have to go without some of his favorite food for long.
The 15-month-old and mom Cara were two of the several dozen people who took advantage of a special preview of the new Panera Bread bakery-restaurant in Keizer Station last Friday, Dec. 21. The bakery officially opened for business early the next morning.
The Sizemores recently moved back to Keizer, which means the timing was perfect.
“We love it here,” Cara said while breaking up part of a grilled cheese sandwich for her son. “We went there all the time when we were in Tualatin. This satisfies my craving for soup and he loves his grilled cheese sandwich.”
Dave Hardin, joint venture partner for Panera in Oregon and Southwest Washington, noted the chain has 1,600 locations nationally, including eight in the Portland area. Panera also has a location in Corvallis.
“We are definitely ready,” Hardin said. “We’ve been trying to get into Keizer for about two years. Keizer is a great community. The citizens of Keizer definitely deserve a Panera.”
Denny Bauldree, general manager of the Keizer Panera, noted more than 50 people have been hired. Some of the employees were trained at stores in either Corvallis or Tualatin, while others were trained in Keizer last week.
“Most of our staff is from Keizer,” said Bauldree, who will be doing more hiring in January to replace staff from other locations who are helping the first couple of weeks. “This place is more of a destination spot for this area. It’s a more comfortable setting.”
Hardin, who describes Panera as a quick casual restaurant, between a full-service place and fast food, pointed out the building was designed with a drive-through window from the start.
“Panera is looking for sites to do retrofits on to make them drive-through,” Hardin said. “It’s more user-friendly for customers. They might be in a hurry, but they get the same quality.”
Derik Milton, president of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, checked out the new restaurant with Christine Dieker, executive director of the chamber.
“It’s way overdue,” Milton said while enjoying a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich. “Everyone I’ve heard from has been in an uproar about how good it is. It will attract more businesses to Keizer Station. I feel we will see an increase in applications for buildings because of Panera Bread.”
Dieker is of similar mindset.
“This is opening the door,” she said. “This will open the eyes of other nice restaurants to come in.”
Milton, who manages the Key Bank in Keizer Station, noted the increased traffic he’s seen lately. Dieker, whose chamber office is also in Keizer Station, has also noticed that.
“This is the busiest I’ve seen Keizer Station,” Milton said. “It’s twice the traffic as last year, due to people waiting for Panera Bread to open. I now have to wait for three traffic lights to leave work, but I’m not complaining. I love it. I just need to find a new escape route.”