- Panera’s founder and CEO is stepping down at the end of the year, after 36 years of leadership at the chain.
- The chain also announced on Wednesday that it plans to acquire rival Au Bon Pain.
Panera Bread announced two huge pieces of news on Wednesday: the fast-casual chain is acquiring rival Au Bon Pain, and its founder is stepping down as CEO.
On Wednesday, Panera announced that Ron Shaich, the chain’s outspoken CEO and founder, will step down on January 1, 2018. Shaich will stay on as the chairman of Panera’s board of directors and continue to work on the chain’s “strategy, communications and acquisitions.”
“This is the right time for me to step down as CEO while still staying involved in the business as Chairman,” Shaich said in a statement. “I returned in 2011 because our growth was slowing and we needed to reposition Panera as a better competitive alternative with expanded growth opportunities. And I’m happy to say we’ve done just that.”
According to a statement from Panera, Shaich is stepping down in order to spend more time on initiatives with JAB Holdings, which acquired Panera for more than $US7 billion in July, as well as on his personal investments and interests.
“I’ve now completed 36 years as a leader of our company and I’m particularly pleased to be able to say that Panera has been the best-performing restaurant stock of the last 20 years, delivering a total shareholder return up 86-fold from July 18, 1997, to July 18, 2017,” Shaich said.
Panera’s new CEO will be Blaine Hurst, who is currently serving as the brand’s president, and who played a major role in the “Panera 2.0” roll-out.
The chain also announced plans to acquire the sandwich chain Au Bon Pain on Wednesday.
The fact that news of Shaich’s departure comes on the same day as the Au Bon Pain announcement is fitting. Panera has its roots in Au Bon Pain, Inc. — a bakery-café created in the ’80s when Shaich combined his cookie shop with the small bakery chain Au Bon Pain. In 1999, the company formerly known as Au Bon Pain, Inc. sold all of its Au Bon Pain units and renamed itself Panera LLC.
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