This Struggling Bakery Chain Is Getting a Second Life Under New Ownership
Having made a home for itself in mostly non-traditional locations like airports and shopping centers with lots of foot traffic, Au Bon Pain's sales were battered during the pandemic. But the gourmet bakery chain had an uncertain future even prior to 2020, with popularity lagging and its footprint going from 200 shops a decade ago to a mere 123 today.
And while it struggled, the chain did manage to broker a new lease on life last year, when it was acquired by seasoned restaurant operator Ampex Brands. The Yum! Brands and 7-Eleven franchisee acquired Au Bon Pain last year with $60 million in assets and according to Fast Casual, the chain has now made a first major step under new ownership—it opened a new restaurant in New York.
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The new Au Bon Pain location is situated on the second floor of Macy's in the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst, N.Y. This is the bakery's second location inside a New York Macy's, according to Restaurant Business, and the first of several new restaurants it hopes to add in the Big Apple.
The chain's sales are still not out of the woods, however. While in 2021, Au Bon Pain did see its sales grow by 17% compared to 2020, they were still down by a whopping 43% compared to its pre-pandemic business.
Au Bon Pain has a complicated history, one that's closely tied to a much more popular competitor. Baking Business states that partners Louis Kane and Rob Shaich created the chain in 1981, then took the company public in the early '90s. Two years later, they acquired the Saint Louis Bread Company and eventually named it Panera Bread.
In 1999, Au Bon Pain was offloaded so that resources could be focused on the more promising Panera brand. The two brands converged again in 2017 when the much-bigger Panera Bread reacquired Au Bon Pain. When Panera merged with Einstein Bros Bagels and Caribou Coffee to create Panera Brands in 2021, the French-inspired bakery chain was sold off again, this time to Ampex.
Ampex's goal is to stabilize and revamp existing cafes to venture into positive standing before it can open more corporate-owned locations.