In November Gut Check learned that Panera Bread, the nationwide brand of locally owned and operated St. Louis Bread Company, had introduced a new "hidden menu" in collaboration with Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Chef, to its bakery cafes in New York City. Our curiosity -- and OK, maybe jealousy -- piqued, we spoke with Panera executive vice president and chief concept officer Scott Davis to find out more about the menu and why it wasn't available in St. Louis locations. At the time Davis told us testing for this project was simply easier to launch in Manhattan, with only four bakery-cafes there versus the many in St. Louis. We cede, if not still slightly territorially, that that's a fair explanation.
Our long local crisis is over though, St. Louis. Today the hidden menu hits bakery-cafes nationwide.
Panera's hidden menu has been available online since its test-market launch this past fall, but Gut Check caught up with Kelly Obermeier, Panera marketing manager, and Don Hutcheson, Panera's director of operations, to learn more about the menu, its ingredients and nutrition stats, why it caters to a separate set of diets and lifestyles and how to order off the thing -- it's hidden, after all.
Hutcheson explains that test marketing in Manhattan was generated largely through social media and word-of-mouth, with no information about it posted in bakery-cafes. The same "order off-menu" approach carries over to bakery-cafes across the country -- so St. Louisans eager to try the new dishes should review items online before visiting a location. Hutcheson says members of the company's rewards program MyPanera will receive an e-mail this week officially announcing the hidden menu's national debut.
As for the items on the hidden menu, Hutcheson says the focus is healthful, high-protein, low-calorie, slow-carbohydrate ingredients already familiar to Panera customers.
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