Panera Brands—the fast casual platform including Panera, Einstein Bros. Bagels, and Caribou Coffee—reconfirmed Tuesday its move toward an IPO. And a new CEO will lead that charge.
Effective July 1, chief executive Niren Chaudhary will step down and transition to chairman. He will be succeeded by José Alberto Dueñas, currently president and chief executive of Einstein Bros. Bagels.
“It has been an honor to lead Panera Brands during such a transformative time for our company,” Chaudhary said in a statement. “Not only have we introduced innovative new concepts to the fast casual dining industry, but we have expanded our global footprint and formally united Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. to create one of the largest and most vibrant fast casual companies in the world. I have had the privilege of working closely together with José over the last several years, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to drive long-term value creation as Chairman.”
Panera did not give a timeline for its eventual IPO.
Chaudhary has served as CEO of Panera since May 2019 and of Panera Brands since July 2021. Prior to these roles, he worked as Krispy Kreme’s COO and international president for two years and spent time at Yum! Brands for 23 years. Under his watch, Panera bolstered its digital channels, which accounts for 53 percent of sales. The fast casual has 53 million loyalty members, thanks in part to an Unlimited Sips subscription program that mixes 25 percent. The chain is also testing drive-thru AI voice ordering and palm-scanning technology and debuted a digital-only prototype for urban markets.
In addition to increasing digital capabilities, Chaudhary also helped Panera pioneer sustainability initiatives. In October 2020, the chain revealed its Cool Food Menu, which consists of items labeled as climate friendly. About a year later, Panera announced that it will become climate positive by 2050, meaning it will take more carbon than it emits.
With Panera Brands, Dueñas will oversee 3,852 locations across 11 countries. Panera alone has 2,121 bakery-cafes in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada. Caribou Coffee has 738 restaurants in 10 countries and Einstein Bros. Brands (Einstein Bros. Bagels, Bruegger’s Bagels, Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagel) has 984 units in the U.S.
Panera Brands generated more than $4.8 billion in revenue in 2022.
Dueñas has led Einstein Bros. Bagels since 2019. In his time at the company, the industry veteran has emphasized the role of general managers, built digital access, and executed a simpler operating model. All of these initiatives resulted in better unit-level economics and margin expansion, according to the company. Prior to this role, he was chief brand officer for Sonic and worked in multiple roles for Darden Restaurants.
“I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to lead the phenomenal group of people at Panera Brands and be part of what is undoubtedly one of the most iconic brands in food,” Dueñas said in a statement. “I believe that with this incredibly dedicated team and our great franchisee partners we can continue to deliver a best-in-class guest experience, increase our positive impact in the communities we serve and accelerate key growth-driving initiatives to prepare the Company for a future public listing.”
Additionally, Patrick Grismer, an independent director and former CFO of Starbucks, Patrick Grismer will was named chairman of the Audit Committee. He joined the board in 2022 after a 36-year career in finance.
Panera Brands initially planned to go public with restaurant veteran Danny Meyer’s special purpose acquisition company, USHG Acquisition Corp. The SPAC was to serve as a “cornerstone partner” and Meyer was going to invest directly and become an independent director. Several months later, the strategy was shut down due to “deteriorating capital market conditions” ahead of a July 1, 2022 deadline.
Each restaurant concept is owned by JAB Holding, which purchased Panera for $7.5 billion in 2017 and took it private for the first time. Caribou was acquired for $340 million in 2012, and Einstein Noah Restaurant Group was bought for $374 million in 2014.