WESTPORT, Conn. – With approval from the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission in place, Panera Bread is planning to open its first bakery-café in Westport Plaza this fall. While fans of the popular chain might find the news mouth-watering, John Riina, owner of Village Bagels in Westport Plaza, is less than excited.
“At first I was shocked and disappointed when I heard [Panera] would be my direct competition, no less renting a space in the same plaza,” Riina said. “But I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
Panera, which last week gained approval to open at 1860 Post Road E. in Westport Plaza, will boast a menu similar to that of Village Bagels, which is located a few doors down at 1874 Post Road E. There are other locations throughout the county, including Fairfield and Greenwich.
Village Bagels serves breakfast and lunch. It specializes in kettle-boiled, “real New York style bagels,” Riina said, and offers a variety of breakfast sandwiches. For lunch, Village Bagels serves cold and hot-pressed panini sandwiches and custom-made salads.
Panera’s menu also consists of bagels, breakfast sandwiches, paninis and salads, in addition to baked goods, breads by the loaf and soups.
Although Riina said his business and Panera will be competing for the same customer base, he said he’s not worried about losing business.
“We’ve been here [in Westport Plaza] for 16 years, and we have a very loyal following,” said Riina, who founded Village Bagels 18 years ago. “We were named ‘Best of Fairfield County’ by Moffly Media two years in a row, and I’m confident we will continue to be a Fairfield County favorite for Westport and surrounding communities.”
Nevertheless, Riina said it’s still “shocking” the plaza landlord signed Panera, considering Village Bagels has been a longstanding plaza business. “But I know he’s looking at building long-term relationships with these big companies.” The plaza landlord could not be reach for comment this week.
The future home of Panera is occupied by True Grace, a nail salon. Angie Green-Hick, the marketing manager for Panera in Connecticut, could not provide a more specific date for when the bakery-cafe might open. Currently, the closest Panera is located in Norwalk. A Panera is also opening in Fairfield on Black Rock Turnpike. That location, she said, should be open by the end of the year.