Just a blueberry muffin? Maybe. But for Moe Faulkner, whose sense of taste was diminished by the end stages of cancer, those Panera Bread treats were a pretty big deal and they were one of the few foods he was still able to enjoy. “If he didn’t have an appetite,” his wife, Shirley, explained to a reporter for The State Journal-Register, “that was the one thing I could count on to get him to eat something. The doctor said to try and get him to eat, even just half of a muffin.”
So when Shirley dropped by the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Springfield, Illinois, to pick up a dozen and learned they were sold out, she was pretty upset. And when manager Sean Moser, whose grandmother had recently died of cancer, found out why, he whipped up a fresh batch and delivered them straight to Shirley and Moe’s door. Shirley was astounded. “I thought, ‘My goodness, a business going to all this trouble!’” she said to the reporter.
But that was just the beginning. Each time Moe and Shirley dropped by Panera Bread, they were greeted with a big hug and free blueberry muffins. Moe recently passed away, and is fondly remembered at the bakery-cafe. For Sean, that kind of connection to customers is a key part of why he loves his job - and it’s part of the Panera Bread culture.
Just ask Sonja Hill, an assistant manager at the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Southgate, Michigan. In the winter of 2008, when Ronnie Bernard, who had ordered eight loaves of rye bread, called to say she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to come in to pick them up, Sonja wrapped up the loaves, climbed in her car, and drove 15 miles through a snowstorm to deliver them. “Nobody orders eight loaves of bread,” says Sonja, “so I figured she must have really needed them. She’s one of the sweetest ladies, and she was so thankful. Panera Bread won a very loyal new customer, and I made a good friend.”
Going that extra mile - or those extra 15 miles - is a pretty common Panera Bread theme. After eating lunch at a Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Boston in the summer of 2010, Emily L. tossed her empty soda cup into the garbage bin. Problem was, her brand-new wedding ring flew in, too. No problem! The bakery-cafe staff brought out a supply of plastic gloves and helped Emily sift through the trash until she found her ring. “A wedding ring is a really valuable thing,” says Glenn O’Gara, bakery-cafe manager. “We were just happy to be able to help. It didn’t feel like we were going above and beyond - but she was a customer and we’re here for our customers. It really made her day. It made our day, too.”
“At Panera Bread, we genuinely care about our customers,” says Sonja. “Our philosophy is: Let’s go out there and show ’em what we can do!”