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January 20, 2010

Bakery cafes flourish in a troubled economy

AtwatersLunch.jpgOne unexpected result of the weak economy is the emergence of bakery cafes as go-to places for eating out on a budget. The industry grew by 12 percent to more than $4.5 billion in 2008, the latest year for which there are figures.

The press release I got about this came from Technomic, a national food service industry consulting firm, so it was talking about chains. I would have to buy its report to find out what the top 25 bakery cafe chains are, which isn't going to happen (I'm not that interested); but three top performers are Panera, Au Bon Pain and Einstein Bagels. ...

Doesn't that last surprise you? I simply don't put it in the same category as the other two, even though I know Einstein has sandwiches made from its bagels, and has added a few salads and soup to the menu. I still don't think of it as a bakery cafe. It's a bagel shop.

On a local level, bakery cafes do seem to be doing well. Certainly a new Atwater's is opening every time I turn around (I hear there's a new one in Catonsville), and Bonaparte in Fells Point always seems busy. Stone Mill Bakery has expanded big time. And dont forget Mr. HowChow's recent review of Bon Fresco.

I was trying to figure out why bakery cafes as opposed to cafes or bistros would be flourishing. The only answer I could come up with is that in a recession you need great bread to keep from blowing your brains out.

“The consumer trade-down from full-service to limited-service formats that solidified through 2008 and into 2009 allowed fast-casual bakery cafes to truly shine,” says Darren Tristano, [executive vice president] at Technomic.“The appeal of moderately priced, high-quality menu offerings served in contemporary ambiance, as well as consumer perception of value for this format, has more than likely strengthened over the past year.”

Does anyone really talk like that?

(Amy Davis/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:40 AM | | Comments (14)


Bread is comfort food, but I go to Atwater's bakery for my latte to reward myself after a workout. I do stop by the bread and cheese counter about once a week to pick up a loaf of my favorite Struan (now being made at the Catonsville location, I believe, but still great bread!)

No, nobody really talks like that. It's execu-speak for "cheap good food goes far on a shoestring budget".

Atwaters in Catonsville, but still no love in Southeast. It breaks my heart a little. Both Panera and Towson Hot Bagels on O'Donnell Street are always hopping, seems like it would be a natural fit for Atwaters.

in a recession you need great bread to keep from blowing your brains out.

This. Add good soup, good chocolate and good coffee, and I'll ask about the monthly chair rent plan.

The story at restaurants right now is not the weak economy, but how busy they are. The ones I see are packed! Many you have to wait to get in. And prices aven't sufered either, although I have see some specials, See the $13.95 creamed chipped beef! Hello?

Another story is that most of these packed places really have nothing to offer. But still people flock to them. Of course these are chains. People just love chains for some horrible reason.

or not ...

Revenue Flat at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group
-- Chain Leader, 1/12/2010 9:59:00 AM

PRESS RELEASE: LAKEWOOD, Colo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: BAGL), a leader in the quick-casual segment of the restaurant industry operating primarily under the Einstein Bros.(r) Bagels, Noah's New York Bagels(r), and Manhattan Bagel(r) brands, today reported preliminary financial results for the fourth quarter ended December 29, 2009.

For the 13-week period ending December 29, 2009, total revenues were virtually flat at approximately $103.7 million compared to $103.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2008.[That's actually bad because they opened new stores in 2009.] Comparable store sales decreased 1.5%, with a 1.1% decline in transactions, while Company-owned comparable store sales decreased 1.8%, including a 1.6% decline in transactions.

"Never skimp on bread, coffee or toilet paper, and always have bacon in the house."
These are the things of comfort, and my Grandda was a wise man for knowing it.

I adore Bonaparte, but sadly i can only have coffee there.. the glorious smell of fresh bread can lift the spirit for hours

I guess it is not surprising. Our go-to for "Fast Food" is Panera. I guess we kid ourselves that it is healthier, but really it seems more refined than the double arches et al. Never mind the fact that soup and bread is really quite comforting and often quite cheap.

I don't think Panera is either good or cheap, but I do haunt it like crazy. For the laptop hookups. Their pastries do nothing (or very little0 for me and they're pretty expensive and nothing compared to a real bakery, like Old World Deli Bakery in Randallstown. Much better than Panera, about half the price, and made by human beings. Good soup too, $2.75 a bowl. Read that an' weep.

potpie -- I do agree with you about Panera, but I totally disagree about using an establishment for free wireless. I hope you atleast buy a cup of coffee. Free wireless is a benefit, not a right. So stop being cheap and throw a little money their way.

We have people at my work who study these sorts of things and its remarkable the shift in trends from high-end to "lower level" dining. It's mostly studied in chains, since most franchise owners have both high and "low" end brands.

the finicky- Cleatus's punk band

About a year ago, Panera locations started covering up outlets to limit laptop languishers. $tarbucks still has ATT wireless which is free if you maintain a $5 balance on a Starbucks card, enter the card number in a website unusable by MSIE6, have a mailing address in Norway and don't need wifi. It's nice chains are driving customers to independents who want them, like One World.

I don't agree with the criticism of Panara. Trying to compare it against a "real" restaurant is like comparing apples and oranges.

They have a nice cheap hearty selection of soups, salads and sandwiches in a nice looking building with lots of parking.

There's something for everyone to eat even if it isn't gourmet. And the bill is cheap compared to Stonemill or Attwaters, who might have more delicous food but at a higher price and at less convenience

My son and I can get soup and half a sandwich with drinks, and it's less than $20. And, if we go to the Hunt Valley location, it's on to Vacaros for dessert of pignoli cookies.

On being cheap and free wireless: Baltbabs, you may have jumped to conclusions. I do spend money in Panera, though I don't eat as much there as I used to. It hasn't been but a few years that all wireless internet was free. Remember? Then the Starbucks and the Barnes and Nobles got high and mighty and started charging. They are not so high and mighty anymore. Starbucks closed about 200 stores and decided that maybe they should bring back the free wify.I think that wify is free again virtually anywhere. You cannot even begin to compare the bland mass produced expensive baked goods at Panera to the really good and inexpensive things at an Old World Deli Bakery. The people who work at Panera are very nice though.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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