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Panera Breaks Bread in Lexington Center (PHOTOS)

With sweets, sandwiches, soups, drinks, 100-plus seats and free Wi-Fi, the Nov. 28 opening of Panera Bread provides another option for shoppers, workers and folks passing through Lexington Center.

Bread was broken and the pastries flaky yesterday as Panera Bread opened its new location on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington Center.

The national bakery-café chain had its eyes on downtown Lexington for about three years prior to the Nov. 28 opening and locked onto the location about a year ago, with progressing over .

“The people and businesses in Lexington center, for us, we felt Panera would be a good fit for the community,” JV Area Director Gregg Godfrey told Patch during a tour Monday.

With free Wi-Fi and more than 110 seats between the café and the patio, Panera adds another, larger option for shoppers, workers and folks swinging through Lexington Center looking for snack, meal or caffeinated beverage. 

The bakery/cafe occupies 1684 Mass Ave., a section of the old Cohoes building. In the basement is a bakery, while the café itself features some of the newer Panera concepts, like warmer colors, new artwork and wooden shelving and accents.

A unique to Lexington feature is the heated three-season room that opens to the patio, which Godfrey said reflects Panera’s vision of the kind of outside seating some locals would like to see more along Mass Ave.

“We really try to create a warm environment,” he said.  “And bringing life back down to this corner is something we’ve heard people saying they’re excited about.”

While signs and work trucks were seen at the site sporadically during spring and summer months, Panera’s first real presence in the Center was during the , when members of the management team handed out cookies and fun-sized candy.

Panera and in the afternoon held a ribbon-cutting/bread-breaking ceremony with .

Prior to the ceremony, the place was jammed. At least three-quarters of the seats were filled and the line was nearly out the door at several points during the morning and lunchtime rushes. 

But the bread-breaking was celebrated during what Godfrey calls the “p.m. chill,” a time when the lunch rush is over and the handful of customers in the store order a drink and maybe a bite to eat and open a laptop, book or bag to get some work done.

“It’s not home, it’s not work, but it’s that third place,” said Godfrey, explaining how those people who buy little and stay long fit into Panera’s world. “That’s one of the things that we think is unique to Panera – that we create an environment where you’re comfortable doing that.  For us, I think it’s about Panera being that third place. We want it to be a part of peoples lives and for them to feel comfortable here.”

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