So in case you didn’t know, construction is almost completed on a Panera Bread location right at the top of High Street, in what was formerly a vacant parking lot. Many students are ecstatic, considering the restaurants central location, easy accessibility from campus and fresh dining options.
Unfortunately, all of these students are terribly misinformed. The Panera Bread on High Street is going to devastate (I do not exaggerate) the local restaurant scene, and all of you should hate Panera and never go there. I’m going to tell you five reasons why.
1. It’s going to be expensive. We’re all broke college students here, no lie. Still, I guarantee the new Panera is going to be the busiest place in town for years to come, full of college students paying for soup bread bowls they can’t afford. Unless the place starts to offer student discounts, I’m going to argue it’s not worth it. If you want a cheap panini or coffee, you should go to Cafe Mojo or Jay’s Daily Grind, places where students are loved and pampered.
2. It promotes a chain-restaurant lifestyle. Let’s face it: people love chain restaurants. They’re familiar. Every one is the same. No matter where you are in the country, you can go into a Panera and get that same hipster dining experience, which is why people love it. The result? People miss authentic (and better quality) restaurants. If you want to be a hipster, why don’t you eat at Maxwell’s, where WVU English professors are regulars, all the food is made from scratch and all the salt and pepper shakers are made from handmade pottery. If you don’t ever broaden your horizons, you’ll always suffer from a fear of the unknown.
3. They refuse to let their statistically-underpaid bakers organize a union. Bakers at Panera work late nights to create “artisanal” breads for each day, but thanks to corporate budgeting, they’re paid less than other bakers across the country. These workers are kept to strict regulation and training standards, yet the average pay is about $10.45 an hour for this employee, while the median pay for bakers in the U.S. is about $11.27 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And they won’t let their bakers organize in a union – more than once the arguments against the union have been religiously driven. The legal battle has been going on for years.
So yeah, Panera’s donates their leftover bread to local charities, but they’re not really going the extra mile to take care of the community. After all, it seems like a cop-out: instead of throwing out our stale bread, lets give it to the homeless and get some good PR. The people who baked that bread? They have to watch out for themselves.
4. They’re trying really hard to disguise the fact that they’re a corporate profit machine. So everybody knows a health food craze is sweeping the nation, which is good. People should be healthier. The problem? With pretty lights and proto-Mediterranean meal names, they’re fooling us into a false sense of satisfaction. If you look closely, the food isn’t as healthy as it seems. Your desire to eat in a healthy, authentic, friendly restaurant is well placed, but Panera isn’t that restaurant. What kind of “authentic” restaurant promotes their “secret” menu in a freaking press release? And look at this: they’re pretending like this unique restaurant model, which is a huge PR stunt, is somehow sustainable.
Do yourself a favor and explore – authentic dining experiences are all over Morgantown. Get homemade Pad Thai at Chaang Thai, a muscle-car-themed burger at Tailpipes, or some old-fashioned fried chicken at Dirty Bird. Even though it’s a chain, you could stop by Pita Pit for fresh ingredients that put Subway to shame. Doesn’t get more authentic than that, folks.
5. We need to protect Morgantown’s business identity. Chains like Panera, CVS, Sheetz and others are threatening the small, locally (and often alumni) owned businesses that give Morgantown it’s identity. Morgantown is small but full of students from all over the country – chains have immense success because of their brand identity. Because of their power, a chain restaurant could topple the fragile balance that keeps Morgantown’s small businesses alive, yet these chains are given priority in real estate deals. As you read this, people are organizing to prevent a bunch of other chains from whitewashing our city into just another American strip mall.
Sign the petition, eat locally, and stay the hell out of Panera – not just for your own sake, but for all of us.
*Author’s note: I edited some parts this post to mention even more local restaurants. Follow the links and visit these locally-owned establishments!