Beginning each day, Panera Bread at 4238 Wilson Blvd. in the Ballston Common Mall renews its commitment to artisanal baking by reenacting the fascinating history of one of the world's oldest foods. In the still, dark morning hours, wafting aromas of specialty breads, bagels, scones, cookies, muffins and French pastries take to the air.
Loyal, sleepy-eyed regulars from the adjoining National Science Foundation headquarters, village corporation and association workers, mall shoppers and U.S. military personnel office recruits come to life each morning with the help of their hometown bakery-café. Located in its catbird seat facing busy Arlington’s main thoroughfare, Panera is perfect for post-shopping cappuccinos, as well as power lunches and breakfasts.
Panera’s socially conscious bakery-café culture believes “the universal spirit of bread is sharing,” and this is reflected in its commitment to ensuring that every purchase feeds back into the Arlington community.
“Every Panera Bread bakery-cafe has several non-profit partners aligning with our community programs. For our Community Breadbox™ Cash Collection boxes it’s Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. We also offer Inova’s Life with Cancer Program support through donations from our signature Pink Ribbon Bagel Campaign during Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” said general manager Jim Abed.
“Through Panera’s matched donations program we were able to build our “Panera Comfy Corner” within our hospital for children, which is a lounge for the families of sick children in our pediatric intensive care unit and our hematology-oncology center where they can go and collect their thoughts and relax,” said Kate Paulsen, senior director of development for Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children. “Most recently their generosity has built an adolescent patient lounge for our teenagers and they have been long time supporters of our Star Kid 8K Race, as well. We are very grateful for their many gifts to the children of our community.”
In addition, Panera supports the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) through their Day-End Dough-Nation™ program. “AFAC receives some of our unused bakery products which helps feed those in need in Arlington County. Beyond that we also make regular in-kind donations and participate in charitable community events,” Abed added.
“The donations from Panera go a long way in helping AFAC serve the needs of our many clients; the children of our families love to see the pastries from Panera and will often ask (sometimes demand) their Mom's to take the Panera pastries,” said Charles Meng CEO of AFAC. “In the last year alone, the local Panera's have given AFAC a total of 28,273 pounds of pastries and breads," he added.
Panera’s cause-related community efforts are part of its recipe for success, which includes a magical menu mix of flavorful, scratch-prepared items made with high-quality organic and all-natural ingredients, such as antibiotic free chicken, whole grain breads and food free of trans fats. It also takes pride in its clean, comfortable surroundings, and courteous, personable and quick service.
Manager Muhammad Ali (everyone calls him Ali) always has a kind word to go with his smile, which sets the stage for another “meet, greet and eat.”
“Ballston is one of the best neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and since our opening, we have strived to be an active part of the community. It’s is a great area because you have young people living in high rises, families living in townhomes, business and corporations but you still have a small neighborhood feel. Panera offers a comfortable place where everyone, visitors to the area and residents alike, always feel at home,” said Ali.
“I come here in the afternoons to do business on their strong Wi-Fi Internet connection and drink the caffe latte, and sometimes the chai tea latte, which is excellent because of the espresso beans they use here,” said artist Raj Ranpourt.
With their free and reliable Wi-Fi Internet connection, Panera is a blogger’s haven before and after the lunch rush from 11 to 2 p.m. daily. Writers, students and researchers are appreciative of the welcoming attitude of the staff, not to mention the full-service espresso bar with all the bells and whistles.
Panera is committed to creating a harmonious working environment, which produces high-performing associates. “We believe that promoting from within is an important part of what Panera Bread stands for. If an employee wants to grow with the company, we do our best to give that employee what he or she needs to do so. We have a talented and loyal staff and it’s important to reward them when a promotion is deserved,” said Abed.
“As someone who was recently promoted, I know first-hand that Panera works hard to promote staff internally. The company treats its staff very well and if you work hard there are many opportunities for advancement. Panera wants its employees to grow with the company, and they give you every opportunity to do so,” said assistant manager Syed Qaiser.