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Shakeup Could Bring Panera Bread to Rutgers Student Centers

Unexpected Closures of Starbucks and ABP Already Irked Coffee-Loving Students
Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain Ziajah Nellom

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Some members of the Rutgers community were a bit distraught at the beginning of the new semester when they discovered that, after more than two decades on College Avenue, the Au Bon Pain had closed for good.

Luckily for fans of coffee and pastries, the very similar Panera Bread is said to be taking the place of ABP in the near future, according to a January 16 article in the Daily Targum.

Details on when the new store might open are still unknown, with neither Rutgers nor the company giving any indication about when students or others might find Panera open for business.

A spokesperson for Rutgers told New Brunswick Today that Rutgers is "looking forward" to having Panera Bread, not just on the College Avenue campus, but also on the Busch campus in Piscataway.

But it's still not clear when the new stores will open, and there are no signs of activity at the former ABP site.

Further complicating matters for College Avenue coffee-lovers was the abrupt closure of another on-campus coffee shop: the new Starbucks in "The Yard," a massive new student housing development at the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street.

The store opened less three months before it closed on January 20, reportedly over a contractual dispute with the project's developer, New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).

Panera Bread and Au Bon Pain were once part of the same company that got its start in 1981. In 1993, the Au Bon Pain Co. purchased the Saint Louis Bread Company, which launched the first Panera Bread.

After managing a volume increase of 75%, the Saint Louis Bread Company changed to be recognized as Panera Bread. 

In 1997, due to Panera Bread's  huge succuess, the Au Bon Pain Co. decided to sale all other units of the company, including the ABP units.  Since both companies have since parted, the two chains are now close compeitors that serve many, similar items.

Today, there are 2,024 Panera Bread bakery-cafes in 46 states. That number will soon grow two more units, as Panera Bread prepares to move to the College Avenue and Busch campuses.

Students, faculty members and visitors on the campus will be able to enjoy a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads and breakfast items that are free of “all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources,” according to a Panera Bread press release unrelated to the new store in New Brunswick.

Earlier this month, Panera Bread announced a new initiative to offer a "100% clean menu."

The company released an official “No No List,” which includes a variety of ingredients that the company affirms will never be found in their pantry of ingredients.

Excluding a significant number of ingredients was a tall order for the company, who teamed up with over 300 partners in an effort to eliminate 122 ingredients to provide a healthier menu.

Prices at Panera range from as low as $.80 to as high as $12, similar to the prices at ABP.

As for the coffee crisis on the College Avenue campus, Panera would offer a variety of coffee beverages, including cappuccinos, expressos, iced drinks and more.  But no one can say when.

Meanwhile, a new Starbucks-branded truck that Rutgers purchased in 2016 makes occasional appearances besides the Alexander Library, also on College Avenue, but its presence is inconsistent.

As for Starbucks, the nation's most popular coffee chain, students don't have to go far off-campus to get some.  There's a Starbucks on George Street near Albany Street and the Barnes & Noble Rutgers bookstore also sells Starbucks products.

But students and other observers are still displeased to see the brand-new Starbucks store sitting empty. 

DEVCO President Christopher Paladino explained that there is no set date yet for the reopining of the new Starbucks: "We are currently working with representatives of Starbucks corporate to expedite the reopening," he stated in an email to NBToday.

In a February 7, Daily Targum article, Paladino was quoted as saying, “I fully expect to be swinging by The Yard for my morning coffee on Monday morning.”

However, the store remains closed a full week later.

In the meantime, the absence of the these coffee-serving franchises on College Avenue does not mean there is a short supply of coffee in the area.

The popular and locally-owned coffee shop Hidden Grounds has two locations on Easton Avenue, both near the Rutgers campus.

The original Hidden Grounds is located at the corner of Easton and Mine Street, just two blocks from College Avenue, while the Hidden Grounds "Expresso Bar" closer to the train station on the ground floor of Rutgers' Easton Avenue Apartments.   

For those who are on a tight schedule and can't leave College Avenue, their best bet is the Chabad House at the corner of Senior Street and College Avenue.  The Chabad House opened a cafe last February, which is open to the entire Rutgers community.