Panera Brands Inc. on Tuesday announced a restructuring of its leadership team in preparation for an initial public offering.
Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary will become chairman of Panera Brands, the group that includes the 2,121-unit Panera Bread, as well as sister brands Einstein Bros. Bagels and Caribou Coffee.
Moving into the group’s CEO seat is José Alberto Dueñas, who is currently president and CEO of Einstein. The move is effective as of July 1.
In addition, former Starbucks CFO and independent director Patrick Grismer, who has served on the board since 2022, will become chair of the board’s audit committee.
Panera Bread was a public company before it was acquired by Europe-based investment firm JAB Holding Co. in 2017 in a $7.5 billion deal. The Panera Brands group was created in 2021 with the three brands to grow, with a “stronger together, growing faster” philosophy. It was also a move to prepare for a spinoff.
That year, Panera Brands announced a planned IPO in a reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, called USHG Acquisition Corp., led by famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer. The plan at the time was to trade under the ticker symbol HUGS.
By 2022, however, the outlook for IPOs was looking grim, and the deal with USHG Acquisition Corp. was called off. Several other restaurant companies that were in line for IPOs also put their plans on hold last year in light of growing inflation and fears of recession.
But at the time, Chaudhary said Panera would continue to prepare for and explore an IPO as market conditions improved.
It’s not clear whether the moves announced this week indicate that an IPO is imminent, but it appears restaurant companies are starting to see favorable market conditions. Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Cava Group Inc. made its long-expected plans for an IPO official.
Panera Brands officials declined to comment on the timing of the potential IPO.
Chaudhary, meanwhile, has spent the past few years expanding Panera’s digital capabilities and building brand loyalty. Digital sales now account for 53% of sales for Panera Bread, the company said, and Panera’s loyalty program has grown to 53 million members.
The bakery-cafe chain has pioneered a subscription beverage offering that last year grew to include an annual Unlimited Sip Club, allowing guests a year’s worth of unlimited self-serve drinks for $199.99. The company said 25% of transactions now come from Unlimited Sip Club members.
Panera Bread was also the first restaurant concept to test the use of Amazon One’s contactless palm readers, which allow loyalty members to pay using a scan of their palms.
“It has been an honor to lead Panera Brands during such a transformative time for our company,” said Chaudhary 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.”
In fiscal 2022, the Panera Brands group, which now includes more than 3,800 units, generated more than $4.8 billion in revenue.
At Einstein, which includes Bruegger’s Bagels, Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagels, Dueñas served as CEO since 2019 and has led that chain’s effort to build its breakfast business, rolling out an operating model simplification that the company said improved the guest experience and expanded digital access, resulting in significant improvements to unit economics and margin expansion. Einstein includes 984 company-owned and licensed locations.
Caribou Coffee includes 738 stores in 10 countries.
Before joining Einstein, Dueñas was chief brand officer for Sonic Drive-In and, before that, worked in leadership at Darden Restaurants.
Dueñas said in a statement he was honored to lead one of the most iconic brands in food.
“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.”
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