Corporate chain Panera Bread is now taking on the local restaurants and markets on the Elmwood Strip.
Panera on Wednesday cut the ribbon on its newest and largest Western New York location at 765 Elmwood Ave.
The new location, in the former Blockbuster video store, is directly across the street from Globe Market and restaurant mainstays Cecelia’s and the Acropolis. And it’s in the same building as Spot Coffee’s busy location.
All those restaurants and several others are expected to face competition from the new entry to the Elmwood scene.
Panera is seen as a direct challenge to Globe Market, since both serve artisan-baked bread, soups, salads and sandwiches, have similar menus and court similar customers.
The chain’s entry into the area, which is known for its robust support of locally owned businesses, rankled some.
Things were off to a slow start at Panera on Wednesday around noon, with just a handful of people in the 5,500-square-foot store, which has room to seat 125. Breakfast and lunch are typically Panera’s busiest hours.
“I think sales will be driven more by dinner, just because of the type of area this is,” said Sonia Velazquez, the store’s manager, who grew up on Buffalo’s West Side but now lives in the Town of Tonawanda. “Elmwood is not really awake yet.”
By 1 p.m., there was a fast-moving line of about 18 customers stretching to the door, with about 37 people seated. The store opened at 6 a.m.
Across the street, the much smaller Globe Market had a full house and was quickly working through a line of about 11 people.
Heather Yaeger was on her way to Spot Coffee when she noticed that the new restaurant was open and ducked in there instead with three co-workers.
“I know, isn’t it terrible? I feel bad,” Yaeger said about choosing Panera over Spot Coffee, which was established in Buffalo but is now headquartered in Toronto.
Gesturing to her large Tropical Hibiscus Unsweetened Iced Tea, she said, “But I know they have this, and I like this a lot.”
James Roth was drinking iced tea with co-workers, too, but across the street on Globe Market’s patio.
“I don’t have anything against corporations,” Roth said, digging into a caprese sandwich. “I just always assume the quality of food is going to be better at a local place.”
Globe Market is owned by Lisa Hennig and Alice Lambe-Eoannou. Panera Bread is a publicly traded company headquartered in St. Louis. Some Panera Bread locations are owned by franchisees, but all 10 in Buffalo are corporate-owned.
The sleek new Panera boasts a distinctive glass wall that separates a front dining area from the registers, kitchen, breakfast counter, conference room and a rear dining room with a fireplace. The earth-toned front dining area opens onto an outdoor patio with accordion-like folding glass doors called NanaWalls.
The open concept is unique to the new store, an attempt to capitalize on heavier volumes of foot traffic from the neighborhood outside than are typical for the chain’s more suburban locations, said Eric Thein, Panera district manager.