Panera Bread | Santa Rosa

Thai Chop salad and french onion soup at Panera Bread

Panera Bread, the national bakery, sandwich and soup chain has opened will open this week in Santa Rosa.

It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a national chain-type fast-food/cafe soup, salad and bread eatery. Good sandwiches. Tasty soups. Creative salads. Yummy cookies and breakfasty-stuff (croissants to mini souffles). Starbucks-esque interior with a cozy little enclosed fire and lots of windows.

You can go healthy (the chain has long been praised for its “healthy” options) or really pack on the calories. Best bets: You Pick Two. Pair a half sammie and salad or soup for about $8. The Thai Chopped Chicken is a hefty bowl of chicken, romaine, cashews, edamame, carrots and other goodies in a Thai Chili Vinaigrette. Yum. French onion soup was solid.

Bakery Menu | Salads | Sandwiches

The building went up quickly in the former CVS parking lot at the corner of Steele and Mendocino — in a sort of newly minted Golden Triangle of fash food chains (Five Guys, In N Out, possible Chik-fil-A) off the Steele Lane exit of Highway 101.

Interestingly (and maybe I just noticed this), Target has started carrying a line of Panera food items including dressings, dips and spreads. Like the restaurant (which is owned by St. Louis Bread Company), they’re well-researched to fit American food-profiles.

Meanwhile, the Baja Fresh in the nearby Safeway Shopping Center has, we heard, permanently shuttered. It’s not a huge surprise, considering the wealth of cheaper and better Mexican food nearby (Taqueria Santa Rosa, La Palapa, Jalisco) and the overwhelming popularity of it’s two neighbors — Five Guys and Panda Express.

Are you welcoming Panera with open arms. Or giving them the royal raspberry.

 

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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85 Comments

  1. Ate at Panera today. Quick service but not the best sandwich. I had to take it apart to locate the chicken that was supposed to be on it. Very disappointing, but will give them one more chance and order something different.

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  2. Best bear claw I ever ate, they melt in your mouth……………….

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  3. I’ve had some really great meals at panera, and some really bad ones. In the end, it seems like the type of place that depends on location. Definitely a decent option for something quick that isn’t mexican food.

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  4. The problem with Chik-Fil-A isn’t the fascist christian owners, it is that they don’t require a key for the bathrooms.

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  5. So, I tried Panera tonight….I was mainly interested in the bagels since finding a decent, New York style bagel in the North Bay is nearly impossible. The best bagels I’ve had in these parts are at Homegrown in Sonoma, and a couple of times I’ve had a bagel made by Artisan bakers which was pretty good, but I don’t know where they sell them regularly b/c I have only found them at random cafes from time to time. They used to make pretty good bagels at this place on 4th Street in San Rafael but I’ve heard that place has gone downhill. Suffice it to say I am on a constant quest for a good bagel and am willing to forgo my corporate-chain aversion to at least TRY Panera. I ordered just one plain bagel, untoasted, to test out the flavor and texture and compare to the plain NY bagel of my childhood memories. I was pleasantly surprised actually, it was not bad. It wasn’t great. but it was better than I expected. The corporate-quality of the bagel is evident with its super shiny exterior and perfect donut shape. It had a “safeway-select” quality/texture to it that shaved a few points off it’s overall bagel-liciousness, but it also had a flavor slightly reminiscent of the yeasty-but-not-just-a-plain-white-roll taste of a NY bagel. It had a decent density – many local bagels either are TOO bready/dense/squishy (ala Sonoma Valley bagel) or TOO light and airy (ala safeway select). Manhatten bagel makes an OK – albiet a bit bready – egg bagel, but their plain bagel has no flavor. I’d rate Panera plain bagels a solid 6, and if you can get them hot or warm in the mornings, maybe even a 7 1/2. I am sad that none of the local bakeries make a really good NY style bagel – and even better – serve them up HOT in the mornings – or I’d be there in a heartbeat over Panera. But for the time being, I’ll occassionally patronize Panera when I need to revisit a bagel a bit closer to the ones I had regularly during my NJ/NY childhood. Although most of the time I probably won’t get a bagel at all because I’d really prefer to frequent the artisan bakeries in town, even if it means just having a slice of toasted bread with butter instead.

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    • Having worked at Panera in FL, for 2 yrs(Bakery AM Shift) was very familiar w/ bagels, and as a NJ Native a BAGEL Coniseur, they are NO, comparrison! Much sweeter and softer in middle, Not saying Panera isn’t good, but no way, is it NJ/NY- Class.(St. Louis Bread)hint:) The Cinn Crunch can be really good for munchies-w/ butter ,they’re like a THOUSAND calories each. Kids go nuts for these , especially teens~Now their french bread and baked goods can be really good, if the, baker, is, “on time”.

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  6. I lived practically next door to the Panera in North Hollywood, until I moved to SR behind the Safeway on Lewis just last week! I always found Panera’s breads to be too sweet (as in, they add too much sugar). My GF agrees. Their food is basically okay, however, and certainly a cut above most fast food chains. Their French onion soup is not bad, especially in a (too sweet?) bread bowl. They would typically run out of bread bowls after the dinner hour, however.

    I like to sit in coffee houses and sketch. I tried that several times at Panera in North Hollywood, but the place always felt too corporate for me to be comfortable, plus you had to get a key to use the restroom, which is always degrading. Perhaps the SR Panera will offer a better experience; I don’t know, I haven’t been there yet, and based on my experience with other Panera’s, I’m in no rush.

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    • Well, Arne, I somehow think Panera will servive if you don’t go there.

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    • a key to the restroom? big deal! degrading? hardly. I mean unless you need to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes, then what’s the problem? most people would not mind asking for the key if it meant that the bathroom was going to remain pristine and controlled rather than some creepy place. I also have no problem with the corporate setting which is kind of homey and cosy and spend my time reading the paper or using my lap top.

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  7. I would like to recommend a place called Chow–there are two in S.F. and two in the East bay–one in Lafayette and one in Danville. I had a Thai salad that was so fresh and the dressing was perfect. They focus on fresh local produce and have a little market where you can take home certain items. Prices are quite reasonable. I think they would do well in Santa Rosa.

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  8. What most people don’t understand that in Europe, many of the bakeries are chains. They get the doughs from the main plant and bake them on site. Like Whole Foods and Panera etc. In a pinch, that kind of bread will do, but if I have the time and energy, I will buy from the Artisan baker. This type of industrial bread is a few grades better than the super industrial bread, but still, it is industrial bread.

    When you go to Europe, most people don’t know the chains and they fall for Euro industrial breads, sausages etc. Here in California, we have many more artisans. Just be a good citizen and buy from the artisans 80% of the time.

    But, I do like an In and Out from time to time.

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  9. I got tired of stressing over what bread to buy and where to buy it,
    but I discovered a bread secret—-the BEST bread is white bread
    spread with Cheez-Whiz, capers and sardines. Yum-yum.

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  10. Just a note about Red Lobster. First a disclaimer: I worked there for 3 years (2002-2005).

    Yes, RL has a lot of fried seafood and a lot of entree choices are high in calories and sodium, etc. However, I’ve gotten a lot of similar dishes at The Tides in Bodega for a lot more money.

    What I’d like to mention is that Red Lobsters have really good fresh fish choices which they follow strict guidelines for storing and use to keep it as fresh as possible. It’s quite tasty (except they do use farm raised salmon, which is not a personal favorite for me).

    Quoted from http://www.redlobster.com “Partnering with organizations like the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), Red Lobster is committed to helping protect the sustainability of the world’s seafood supply. We refuse to serve endangered or over-fished species, such as Chilean sea bass, and participate in conservation efforts like never selling live lobsters that are larger than four pounds.

    What’s more, our seafood only comes from certified, sustainable farms. We require our suppliers to be certified by the Aquaculture Certification Council (ACC) to having been produced according to Best Aquaculture Practices as established by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA).”

    That is all!

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  11. Hey Heather – What’s going on with the former Ozzies Grill location. I was at Oliver’s and they said it’s opening back up. Can you get the real scoop? I live over that way and if another restaurant is within walking distance from my place I’ll be super happy.

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    • Ugh. Can you at least post it on the right article? You’re about a week late to the party.

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      • Ugh yourself. I’ve been in Phoenix for the last week and missed “the right article”. I’ll hold my opinion and my reading your blog in the future.

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      • Why even bother to reply to Jodella the Hun, just plonk the idiot to the rabid lefty wingnut moron bin.
        And as others have asked, what IS up with Cannavari’s, I hope they don’t change the Ravioli recipe..

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        • I’ve talked to the owner. The Traverso’s stuff isn’t true. Some other stuff is cooking. I’ll report back. We’re meeting up this week.

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          • Thanks so much. So Cannavari’s is not re-opening, was not sold, & a few of the Traverso’s people are not going there? “But other stuff is cooking”….ok. I really want to know because I miss Traverso’s.

      • El Crocko. Glad to read the ‘misplaced’ chik-fil-a comment because I too missed
        the ‘right article.’ And at first I thought it was just a euphemism for Hooters.

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    • Thanks for the heads up Jodella. I will not be patronizing Chik-fil-a, for the same reason I don’t patronize In-n-out Burger. They’re both owned by right wing Christian fundamentalists who donate money to organizations I view as dangerous to the kind of world I want to live in. No hate here. No drama. This is just the way it is. So very sorry that this is off topic, lol.

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    • I posted below, but really meant it to be a reply to Jodella. In short, thanks for the heads up Jodella! I will not be stepping foot in the place you mentioned and will make sure I tell all my friends.

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  12. You know what is great? I’m going to try Bennett Ridge Bakery, possibly tomorrow, Semi-Freddi’s at TJ’s. I want to put in a good word here about Village Bakery, I didn’t mean to say anything bad about them. Their challah is gorgeous but…it was a bit lacking. I mean GORGEOUS. And their baked goods are divine.

    Heather, can you find out about Cannavari’s? I was told they were sold to new owners and some Traverso’s people are coming to work there.

    And don’t hate me everyone but I love Chipotle & wish they were here.

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  13. I kind of agree that people need to freaking get over themselves. A person who truly loves food seeks out the “best of breed” for all types of food. A person who truly loves food never shies away from a new adventure in food no matter where it exists

    I honestly think McDonald’s fries are the best fast food fries. I love an animal style double double. I also love an amazing lobe of foie gras, a 63 degree egg and a perfect bolognese sauce. I think that Oliver’s and whole foods routinely impress me with their baked goods over some of the smaller local bakeries. When it comes to bread I’m a Della fattoria girl. Except when it’s full circle sourdough. Or Costeaux. But I could be persuaded.

    Fast food chains rarely impress it is true. I would rather chew my own arm off before eating at Chilis or Applebee’s again but I’ve been to both many times. Red lobster horrifies me but I’ve been there three times trying to find something to like (the biscuits rock). I’ve also been to plenty of “local” restaurants that trot out tired Sysco or Costco food with little passion or care. Sorry but they aren’t worth patronizing just because they are local.

    I can’t wait to check out panera. I’ve never been. My expectations are set low but who knows maybe something will impress.

    So take off the judgment and have a little fun with food.

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    • The God of Sonoma Cuisine’s (at least the rest of the country thinks so) restaurant Johnny Garlics has a Sysco truck parked at its side door almost everyday. The food is horrible and fairly expensive. I would rather walk across the street to Appleby’s/

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    • mmmh…McDonalds fries…mystery food soaked in grease. Get’em while they are hot, because they are even more disgusting cold.

      There are places with real fries that actually resemble potatoes, including Sweet T’s. Let’s talk about them.

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  14. “After months of waiting,……”

    You were??? That’s sort of sad.

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  15. Went this morning for a 2.95 pecan roll, very good and a barley warm chai latte, total was 6.98. A bit high for a roll and hot drink but worth every calorie, oh, I mean penney of it.

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  16. I love when people demonize chains. “Foodies” wouldn’t support Asia Gourmet and it went out of business. But it seems you do support In and Out and Whole Foods (yea it’s a chain folks) . ( don’t say you don’t – I see your No GM bumperstickers still clinging to your Subaru in the parking lots.)

    Get over it. You live in Suburbia. This place is not food nirvana. It’s just OK.

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    • The thing about chains is to remember they do put money into our local economy by the employees hired, the sales tax that go into Sonoma Co. , the property taxes they pay which go into local police, fire, roads, schools etc. I bet Wal Mart in Windsor pays hundred’s of thousands of tax dollars into the town of Windsor.

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      • I’d be surprised if Wal Mart pays any property taxes to the City of Windsor, that’s the kind of deal Wal Mart looks for when they open new stores. They do collect sales tax for the County, I don’t know if Windsor has a separate sales tax like Santa Rosa. Because an awful lot of their employees are part time and don’t get much in the way of benefits, and are encouraged by their employer to sign up for Medi-Cal etc., I doubt if Wal mart is much of a benefit to Windsor or Sonoma County at all.

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  17. When we were living in the middle of Michigan it was impossible to find bread with a crust, not to mention sourdough. It was a dire situation for this Bay Area native. Then Panera opened a store – with sourdough baguettes! I bought bread there weekly; but then, there was no alternative (except squishy sandwich bread). However I do not expect ever to buy bread at Panera here. What we need is a good bagel place!

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  18. I’m currently visiting my mom in Oregon and they have a recently opened Panera in town…we went for a quick breakfast yesterday and I was pleasantly surprised. My oatmeal was delicious, my mom’s grilled breakfast sandwich looked beautiful and she confirmed that it was tasty as well. We also split a small pastry and I was happy to see flecks of vanilla bean in the small dollop of pastry cream. With 2 coffees (that were actually decent, and not the watery brown fluid that passes for coffee at most bakeries), our total for a nice breakfast was $14. I’m not saying that I don’t love, and prefer, a perfect croissant from Downtown Bakery with a cup of coffee from Flying Goat in Healdsburg, but for a chain restaurant, this wasn’t bad at all. I’d much rather see something like Panera coming in as opposed to another burger & fries chain.

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  19. I have never been to Panera bread but will likely try it because I love bread and want to find out what it’s like. However, I can’t imagine choosing a corporate chain over some of my favorite local bakeries UNLESS they carry something that is MUCH better and/or can’t be found decently locally. Village Bakery is also in the JC/McDonald area, and they have excellent fresh baked bread. In Healdsburg, the downtown bakery has what I think is the BEST bread in the county – Costeaux is also excellent. Oliver’s carries Costeaux, Village, Full Circle, and lots of other local breads. I wish all the markets (Safeway, G&G, etc.) did the same. I don’t know of any local bakery that makes excellent Challah – Village challah is too dry in my opinion, Full Circle too sweet). Whole Foods has really good Challah, as does Semi-Freddies (local to Berkeley, sold at Trader Joes). Wildflour in Freestone is awesome if you like sourdough bread or flavored breads. I am curious about whether Panera carries bagels and if they are good. If they are, I’d try it because there are NO local places that carry decent (i.e. NY style) bagels except for Homegrown in Sonoma which is pretty close, but I haven’t been there in forever.

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    • Nightingale Breads in Forestville makes the tastiest Challah around. They make it every Friday, they are open 11-6! Check it out!!

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      • Love nightingale. Wish they would show up in SR stores. I’m too lazy to drive out there as often as i’d like.

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    • check out Bennett Ridge bakery over by Bottle Barn for a great loaf of what you are looking for! I had them custom bake some Challah hamburger buns and they were tops.

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      • Bill C…I second that! They have great offerings for a small place.

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    • The Como bread at Safeway–fresh baked daily and if you ask in advance you can get it special for parties–is my favorite soup bread and when leftover and soaked overnight is the best for yummy cinnamon french toast. Chain stores are not the spawn of the devil if you shop selectively.

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  20. The SRJC Bakery re-opens Wed 1/25 in the new location at Carr and Mendocino; open Wed-Fri. Pretty darn good bread there! The SRJC Culinary Cafe re-opens Wed 2/1.

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    • Are there parking there? Previous location have parking in the mall.

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  21. Sure, it’s a chain but it’s still providing a new employment option for certain locals who might otherwise be unemployed.

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  22. What about Franco’s? There bread is wonderful!

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  23. Put a Chipotle in the spot that Baja Fresh occupied. Much better quality and price.

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      • Yes! Why don’t we have a Chipotle yet? It would totally thrive here.

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  24. Costeaux Bakery ships anywhere!

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  25. It’s not just the bread ~ they have salads, soups, sandwiches, too!. It will be a nice change from the burger joints, and Mexican & Chinese fast food places.

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  26. We already have a whole bunch of high quality bakeries around here, but I suppose the crowd that only goes to chain food businesses needs their own bakery, seems fair…….

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  27. Panera has Pecan Twists that are totally addicting. Beware! Don’t have any! None at all!! That way there’ll be more for me!!

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  28. “Are you welcoming Panera with open arms. Or giving them the royal raspberry.” Uh, thanks for the two choices. I’m welcoming them with an open raspberry and royal arms.

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  29. This type of dining is perfect for young families seeking healthier options and the local college crowd. I predict it will do very well in its locaiton. I like to eat at Panera on occasion but never go there specifically to get the bread.

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  30. Actually Brian- Panera Bread is not much different than Oliver’s own bread. Oliver’s bread is frozen, then made, just like Panera Bread. Not much of a difference. As far as breads, the breads carried by Oliver’s Raymond’s (awful), Basque (meh), Full Circle (can be good but very heavy), Oliver’s own (I like their Challah bread – possibly the best in the county, but it’s not made fresh, it’s frozen then made), Village (Challah is gorgeous, taste is ok, not great), Full Circle (Challah – getting more and more sweet, used to be better, now not as great).

    In fact the best baguette in Sonoma County has to be Costeaux’s Pan Francais, their other ones are not as great and light as that one is. And their cinnamon bread in all it’s forms is fantastic.

    In Napa, everyone is using some bakery named Model (??) I think for all the high end restaurant breads since the Bouchon Bakery burned down and BB is waiting for their French oven to come from France. I don’t remember trying BB’s baguette, but I’m not that impressed with the goods that are at Bouchon Bakery now. Standard fare, including the pr loved Macarons which I find a bit boring.

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  31. A little off topic but I really hope you’re right about Cannavari’s and some of the old Traverso’s folks…I had heard that a couple of them had talked about opening a new deli and God knows while Cannavari’s has been there for ages, it could use some help (like the sign that says “Sandwich of the day: Meatloaf” that’s been there since I was born) lol

    As I’ve said before about chains opening, quality will always prevail and you can choose where you want to eat. However I’d avoid El Pollo Loco. Not to be slanderous but I know 3 people who went on 3 separate occasions and got sick….Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

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    • Mark – it’s what the people at the counter at Traverso’s told me. They said that Cannavari’s was sold to new owners and the new owners asked them to come to Cannavari’s. Otherwise we’re all going to have to go all the way out to Napa to shop at that Italian deli out there. If anyone can find out – possibly Bite Club herself about the Cannavari’s situation that would be really helpful, which was why I put it out there.

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    • Mark, my hubby ate at El Pollo Loco and he also was sick afterwards!

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    • Nothing is fattening, if taken in moderation and as part of a well-rounded meal.

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    • Not when served as a main course!

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  32. My wife and I are retired and travel to Santa Rosa 2-3 times a year to visit family and often stay 4-8 weeks at a time. Our home town has a Panera Bread and we eat there often and some days eat there twice but when we come to Santa Rosa to visit, we must travel 30 miles south to get our daily bread. Now that one is opening soon here, we will save on gas and time. What about a Walmart or Sams Club? When my wife and I return back home, we play “catch-up” because Santa Rose has none.

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    • Curtis: Really? Try the fresh bread selection at Oliver’s Markets. They carry loaves from at least five different local bakeries — all delivered daily. Or hit the Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg. Or a quick trip to Freestone for one of the best breads known to man at Wildflour Bread.

      Or just say screw it, and hang out at either of our two local Walmarts…it’ll be like you never left your home in Iowa (no “catch-up”)!

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    • Why don’t you be a little adventurous and try some of the local breads that you don’t have to burn gas to find? Most of Santa Rosa’s markets carry a decent selection of breads from Village, Grace, ACME, and Coustaux, among others, that put the dreck pawned off by Panera to shame. You do our local economy a disservice by spending your money on mass-market safe bread produced half a continent away when better, locally-made alternatives are available just down the block. You also do our environment–and your pocketbook–a disservice with your 60-mile round trip to acquire that bread.

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  33. I’m super-size excited!

    When I want high sodium, high fat, fast food that’s portion-controlled and factory prepared at corporate headquarters…I want it in a cute, cookie cutter cafe, that pretends to be all homey and local and stuff.

    Yay fake heathy chain food! Boo fresh ingredients, real bakers, and local chefs!

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  34. As a Sebastopol native stuck on what is turning out to be an extended adventure in Iowa, I can tell you that Panera is relatively civilized, for a chain. Breads are made from scratch, the Greek salads are yummy, and there are some good vegetarian options. Think of it as Starbucks with more meal options…

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    • Thinking of anything as “Starbucks, only with…” is NOT a ringing endorsement.

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  35. I am happy to hear there is still hope for Ike’s! After Bite Club’s initial announcement last year I haven’t heard any updates and the building sits abandoned.

    I will definitely check out Panera. As for Baja Fresh, sorry to see a business leave but their food, portion sizes and customer service had rapidly gone downhill in the last year.

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    • Baja Fresh in RP is great! Try the Baja bowls!!

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  36. I’m excited about Panera Bread coming to Santa Rosa. I discovered it in Palm Springs while visiting a friend there. The closest thing to it that I can think of is Boudin in the Corte Madera Mall (where I ALWAYS eat when I go there). Yummy salmon sandwiches if you’re into that plus many other kinds. Also lots of different soups, salads, chili, and mac n cheese, not to mention the bakery goodies. It’s going to be way cool to have something like this so much closer. I hope it lasts and doesn’t get replaced with lame sauce at some point.

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  37. If you like Chicken, don’t forget there is an El Pollo Loco nearby, in Rohnert Park, next to the paintball place.

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    • We moved up here from L.A. six years ago and one of the(few) things we missed was El Pollo Loco chicken…boy were we excited when we saw them open one up!

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  38. Panera makes their own breads, and it is pretty good. They are a very community driven company and donate much of the food at the end of the day to local charities. They give a lot back to the community. http://www.panerabread.com/about/community/
    Chik-Fil-A gives to politicians to push religous ideologies. I rather give to a company knowing my whole community is taken care of rather than some politiican’s pockets.

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  39. I’m glad Baja Fresh is gone. They were nalgas. I’m still sad about that Greek chain that went out, I liked them, now they’re replaced by 5 Guys which is ok, not great. Best thing about 5 guys is the endless amount of peanuts in a shell you can get from them.

    I’ve never been to Panera Bread but I suspect they’re having their chain-run at this moment in time, much like La Boulangerie did at one point. I think people love bread, and the idea of bread but a lot of these chain- bread places are not great.

    That said, what is going on with Cannavari’s? I heard they hired some ex-Traverso’s people and are supposed to reopen as more of a Traverso’s type of store, with a deli, etc. They have new owners.

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  40. Ike’s is scheduled to be at the City’s Zoning Administrator hearing on January 5 for approval of their building facade renovation. I’d expect that once they receive that approval they will be open by the middle of the year or so.

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  41. If I stay overnight in Alameda, I have sometimes gone to the Panera there for espresso and a bagel. It’s OK but nothing super special. Quite a few people at that location use the quieter back tables for WiFi loitering and study.

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  42. I dunno about the marketplace where Baja Fresh just closed. There is almost never a wait at Five Guys anymore. (The wait at I-n-O is still there and predictable, daily at lunch and dinner time).

    Sorry to see Baja Fresh gone, I preferred their lower-heat “gringo” take on Mexican food over the other spots you mentioned. (I don’t find them particularly cheaper, either, all being around $8 – $10 as well, unless you settle for a burrito).

    I hope Panera does well, a spot with high quality sandwiches at that end of town might be appreciated.

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  43. We used to have a chik-fil-a in the plaza. It would be nice to have a fresh white meat fast food option. I haven’t had fast food for decades and tried one of their sandwiches in so cal – pretty good!

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  44. I wonder if the Ike’s will no longer open.

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    • I have contacted the Ike’s people multiple times and they aren’t returning calls anymore. I’m of the mind that they may have taken a pass on Santa Rosa, since they’ve opened some other shops in the Bay Area since then.

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      • Not so, according to this post on Ike’s general facebook page: “SANTA ROSA: Conditional use permit hearing for the SR location is in Room #7 at 10:30AM tomorrow at City Hall if you’d like to show us some support. The city looks poised to get this place open! ♥ chase”

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  45. I welcome the change! Chik-fil-a would be great too!

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