Longtime Yum! Brands franchisee Ampex Brands has bought bakery-café concept Au Bon Pain from Panera Bread.
The agreement includes roughly $60 million in assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. Before the purchase, Panera, owned by JAB Holding, was phasing out Au Bon Pain by converting locations to its own brand and closing others. The value of the deal was undisclosed.
Richardson Texas-based Ampex Brands, which operates more than 400 locations, is taking over Au Bon Pain’s 171 locations and acquiring franchising rights to an additional 131 stores. The move will boost Ampex’s annual revenue by roughly 10 percent.
As a franchisee, Ampex oversees Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and 7-Eleven and earns nearly $500 million in yearly revenue. With the purchase of Au Bon Pain, it will serve as a franchisor for the first time in its 16-year history.
“We see a solid future for both Au Bon Pain and our broader portfolio,” Ampex CEO Tabbassum Mumtaz said in a statement. “Our [quick-service restaurant] brands performed extraordinarily well throughout the pandemic as guests moved to drive-thru. That performance allowed us to diversify and jump on a great opportunity to reposition a legacy brand. The bakery café category will rebound, and Au Bon Pain is well-positioned to grow.”
The near-term plan is to ramp up Au Bon Pain’s existing stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Once those units reopen and show positive results, Ampex will start expanding the company-run footprint.
Ron Shaich, founder and former CEO of Panera, created Au Bon Pain Co. Inc. with his late partner Louis Kane in 1981. The chain went public in 1991 and purchased St. Louis Bread Company two years later. St. Louis Bread was renamed Panera, and Au Bon Pain was sold a few years later so the company could focus all resources on the budding Panera business.
Fast forward to 2017, JAB purchased Panera for $7.5 billion and took the fast casual private. A few months later, the company brought Au Bon Pain back into the fold as part of an initiative to “intensify growth in new real estate channels, including hospitals, universities, transportation centers, and urban locations.” At the time, Au Bon Pain had 304 locations.
JAB is also the parent of Krispy Kreme, which it bought for $1.35 billion in 2016. The doughnut chain is now returning to the stock market and seeking a valuation of roughly $4 billion. In late April, the New York Times reported that JAB completed an $800 million refinancing for Panera that could "pave the way" for the company to return to the public stock market. The publication said Panera may not require a traditional IPO, opening the door for a special acquisition company.
Au Bon Pain will be led by Ericka Garza, who’s spent her career growing franchises for domestic and international quick-service, casual-dining, and c-store chains. She previously served as the senior franchise growth leader for Pizza Hut, where she managed traditional and nontraditional business in the U.S. Garza will be joined by COO Brian Bacica, who has 30 years of experience in the hospitality segment, and CMO Beth Collins, who’s worked more than 20 years in the fast-casual, casual-dining, and entertainment space.
“The U.S. is reopening, and our markets are coming back to life,” Garza said in a statement. “As we open our cafés, Au Bon Pain’s brand reputation, loyal following, strong real estate and menu position the brand favorably for success. We also see opportunity in its nontraditional locations, currently in transportation hubs, airports, universities and hospitals. Smaller footprints with less dine-in seating are the future of fast-casual dining, and having a successful prototype with long-standing institutional relationships allows for flexibility as we grow.”