What it Takes to Grow an EmpireSeptember 13, 2012 No Comments
Ken Rosenthal, long-time entrepreneur and founder of, Panera Bread gives insight on what it takes to grow an empire. Starting a business, even with years of experience, isn’t easy. Be prepared for a few hiccups, small and large. Rosenthal’s story starts in 1987, as the owner of two women’s apparel retail stores in his hometown, St. Louis.
Rosenthal, 44, was growing restless and looking for new challenges. He reached out to his brother, who lived in San Francisco for inspirations. While visiting his brother in San Francisco, he found himself drawn to the local European-style bakeries. They visited multiple stores that sold “hard-crusted sourdough bread.”
“There was a time back in the 50s where there were more than 500 neighborhood bakeries in St. Louis, but one by one they closed as grocery stores got into the bakery business,” said Rosenthal.
This inspiration was the beginning of the empire we know today, Panera Bread.
Rosenthal ventured backed to St. Louis to start the St. Louis Bread Company. He invested $150,000 of his own money and other $150,000 from an SBA loan. However, there was one problem; Rosenthal wasn’t exactly “Julia Childs.”
“My wife would sometimes look at the bread and ask me, ‘Are you seriously going to sell that?’” he said. “There was a huge learning curve.”
Learning to bake the bread was nothing but a small hiccup. However, next came a much larger hiccup, he might have even called it a “nightmare.”
It was the night before Christmas and St. Louis Bread Company was more popular than ever. In fact, so popular that Rosenthal had his entire staff working nights and days. It wasn’t until December 25, Christmas day, that he realized he didn’t have enough bread to fill all of the orders.
As expected, his customers were aggravated.
The very next day, Rosenthal developed systems and processes that would help prevent this “nightmare” from ever happening again. A few years later, Rosenthal opened 6 more locations in the St. Louis area.
The company was eventually acquired by Au Bon Pan, which was later bought by Panera Bread. Rosenthal launched the Panera Bread franchisee business. Currently, Rosenthal lives in Denver and Operates 61 Panera locations. There are more than 1,600 Panera Bread Locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Source: Open Forum