Nicole DiChiara, general manager of the new Panera Bread café in Bellmore, already knows that lunch for Bellmore-Merrick teenagers starts at 11:15 a.m. Victoria Amberge, an associate at the store who attends Mepham High School, said that’s because the eatery has been very well-received by her peers.
“Panera has fast service, but the food is of a higher quality,” Amberge said. “You have time to go during your off-period, but you can also get great food. People are excited because there wasn’t one that close by.”
Bellmore is now home to Long Island’s newest Panera Bread, which celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 13. The staff at the eatery, which sits on the Merrick border, said customers have been lining up out the door to sample everything from bagels to sandwiches and soups, salads, pastas and pastries.
Panera Bread began in 1981 as Au Bon Pain, founded by Louis Kane and Ron Shaich, according to the company’s website. Long Island has been a hot spot for the cafés, as company Vice President of Operations Greg George noted that the Bellmore café is the region’s 26th Panera Bread.
George explained that many Long Island communities have ideal ratios of residential, commercial and office spaces to support a Panera Bread. He said the Merrick Road business district was an ideal location for a new Panera.
“We are always looking to open places all over Long Island,” he said. “The Bellmore-Merrick location has a good proximity to some of our other cafés in Rockville Centre, Massapequa and East Meadow. It has all the right attributes for us.”
DiChiara, of Bellmore, said the community was excited when folks discovered that the franchise was coming to the area. After working for the company for more than 10 years, she said she wanted to experience opening a new café.
“People are really happy that we’re here,” she said. “There’s nothing around here like this... Families can come here and enjoy healthy food.”