It may take you longer to order a steak and arugula sandwich on sourdough bread or a mac-n-cheese bread bowl than it took the Bradenton City Council to give the final approval for Panera Bread to open its latest restaurant at 6351 Manatee Ave. W.
It is the first Panera Bread within city limits with one existing location in the 1500 block of Cortez Road West and another planned for The Green shopping plaza in Lakewood Ranch.
The newest location will be in the Fountain Court shopping center and will occupy the space of the former IberiaBank, which will be demolished to make room for the restaurant, which will include a drive-thru.
Hamilton Williams, of Greenberg Farrow, a representative of Panera Bread, said all new restaurants will include a drive-thru and if the opportunities are there, existing Panera Breads without a drive-thru could relocate to nearby spaces where one could be built.
The IberiaBank location closed a little more than a year ago. Though no official reason was given, Iberia announced in May it would close or consolidate 22 branches this year to improve operating efficiency, according to its website.
The restaurant was required to obtain a special use permit because the city’s suburban commercial corridor districts limit restaurant seating to 20 seats. Panera Bread plans 94 indoor seats and 36 outdoor patio seats within its 4,500-square-foot plan.
Planning and Community Development Director Catherine Hartley said the 20-seat limit makes no sense and believes it’s an example of some antiquated codes the city will revamp in the coming weeks and months.
Williams didn’t have a timetable for construction, saying only that the desire was to move forward quickly. At a September planning commission meeting, he said, “Panera is absolutely excited to be a part of the community. We are already part of Manatee County and are ready to join the city as well.”
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said he appreciated the fact that Panera was going the extra mile in demolishing the bank to build something new instead of trying to renovate it to fit their needs.
“It shows a financial commitment,” Roff said.