NORWALK, Conn. – Wilton High School seniors have a new place to head for lunch, now that Panera Bread has opened a store in Norwalk, just south of the Wilton border.
The chain's first day in business at its new location at 450 Main Ave. in the Walmart plaza saw an influx of five Wilton teenagers and other Wilton residents, as well as a strong lunch rush of aficionados.
"I love my Panera Bread — I love my broccoli cheddar bowl," said Terrance McLaughlin, 17, who was sitting in Starbucks when a text arrived inviting him to lunch with friends in the long-awaited establishent. The teens promised to return for lunch during their free periods, saying the food would be much better than the school cafeteria.
Business was booming, according to a next door neighbor. The line had been going out the door during the lunch rush, said Matt Anderson, manager of Elmer's All the Best Wines.
The space, formerly occupied by a Chinese restaurant, had been vacant since Oct. 31, he said. He's hoping that business will pick up in his store, but it's too early to tell.
Panera Bread offers freshly baked artisan breads, salads, soups and sandwiches, with antibiotic-free chicken and a menu with zero grams of added transfat as some of its highlights.
This Panera Bread is "more linear" than other stores, said Matt Gladstein of Wilton, who has been driving all the way to the Westport Avenue location.
"This is much closer to home," agreed his friend, Antoine Potel of Wilton, another fan who had been making the drive.
"I mostly come to Panera because I love soups, and it's one of the only places to get soups easily," said Emily Hubbell of West Redding. "We've been waiting for this to open for days, honestly. It's kind of sad to say it out loud, but we have. We keep watching it to see it when it's open."