Panera Bread said Wednesday that its founder, chairman and CEO, Ron Shaich, will be stepping down from the CEO post, but not before repurchasing Au Bon Pain in one of his last acts as head executive. Shaich is no stranger to Au Bon Pain, having merged his cookie store, the Cookie Jar, with the bakery in the 1980s, creating the Au Bon Pain Company. In the early '90s the company acquired the Saint Louis Bread Company, which would go on to be renamed Panera. In 1991, the company went public, with Shaich on board as the CEO. However, seven years later, Shaich sold all of the Au Bon Pain divisions to focus on growing the Panera brand. The company did not disclose the terms of the acquisition of Au Bon Pain, which has about 300 locations. The acquisition will allow Panera to grow its business in locations with a smaller footprint. Au Bon Pain has shops in transportation terminals and hospitals that a traditional Panera restaurant would not fit into. "This is not about me," Shaich told CNBC. "This transaction makes powerful sense for Panera." Shaich's departure from the position of CEO and the purchase of Au Bon Pain comes just six months after Panera was purchased by JAB Holding for about $7.5 billion. Shaich said at the time that Panera had proven to be a successful public company, but that he would be able to do more as a private business. Shaich told CNBC that "our friends JAB completely supports" Panera's acquisition of Au Bon Pain. JAB, a privately held company headquartered in Luxembourg, may not be a household name, but its brands are. The company owns Keurig Green Mountain and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Dunkin' Brands, a long-speculated target for JAB, recently saw shares jump amid renewed chatter.
Meanwhile, JAB has been selling off several of its luxury brands in order to focus on faster-growing consumer sectors and has been steadily creating a coffee and breakfast empire over the last five years. Shaich, who will stay on as executive chairman, is handing the keys over to Blaine Hurst, the current president of Panera. Hurst will continue in his role as president, as well. "Blaine has been a key player in our efforts to transform Panera during the past half-decade," Shaich said in a statement Wednesday. "He is very well known and respected in our organization and in our industry for his innovative thinking, technological savvy and ability to drive change." Hurst joined Panera in 2010 to work on the company's $42 million investment, Panera 2.0. These efforts modernized the company's order and pay processes with fast-lane kiosks and mobile order to speed customers through the checkout and also improved the way it trained its staff. Hurst held several posts before becoming the company's president, focusing on manufacturing, supply chain, information technology, digital, human resources and consumer packaged goods. "This is the right time for me to step down as CEO while still staying involved in the business as Chairman," Shaich said. "I returned in 2011 because our growth was slowing and we needed to reposition Panera as a better competitive alternative with expanded growth opportunities. And I'm happy to say we've done just that."
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