Some Wichita Paneras getting drive-throughs, remodels, new ordering systems

New Market Square Panera Bread asst. manager Chris Dumbauld, rings up  customers Jackie Ehresman (L) and her sister Joan Bauer of Colorado Springs.     photo by brian cornLocal Panera franchisee Randy Simon has been busy working on plans to reconfigure some of his stores in Wichita to add drive-through windows and help simplify the ordering system. By this summer, Wichitans will begin noticing those changes, he said.

The plans include a remodel for the Central and Hillside store and the addition of drive-through windows at both the Rock Road and Ridge Road stores. Some of the locations may close down for up to five days early this summer to complete construction, but none will be closed at the same time, Simon said.

Following is a look at some of Simon’s summer plans:

Panera in College Hill, 3333 E. Central: Simon has determined that a drive-through will not work at the Central and Hillside Panera, but the store will get a significant remodel over the summer, both on the interior and exterior. When it’s done, the College Hill Panera also will test out the chain’s new “Panera 2.0”  ordering system, which allows customers to order online with their mobile devices or with touch-screen tablets in the store. Customers who aren’t comfortable with the new ordering system still will be able to order their food the way they always have, Simon said.

Panera at 1605 N. Rock Road: Simon is in the midst of final negotiations and design approval to add a drive-through to this location, which he thinks he can complete by July 4. The Rock Road Panera also will adopt the new Panera 2.0 ordering method.

Panera at 420 S. Ridge Road: Wichita’s newest Panera, which is attached to Freddy’s near Ridge and Maple, also will get a drive-through, though its cramped lot is presenting challenges. Simon says he’s working on getting additional parking for the restaurant and considering an addition to the south side of the restaurant that would add space onto the dining room. The drive-through would be on the east side of the restaurant and could be the type of double stall design that has helped the neighboring Freddy’s make a drive-through work on the small lot.

I’ll keep you updated as plans and dates are finalized.

Wichita’s Paneras candidates for drive-throughs

Drive through bagels? Brilliant.

I don’t often get an occasion to drive to Derby, but this might just change that.

I recently found out — thanks to my observant deskmate Annie Calovich –that the year-old Panera at 1500 N. Rock Road in Derby has a drive-through. Panera is one of those restaurants I’ve always thought needs a drive-through, along with Chipotle.

Derby’s drive-through was the first in Kansas and one of the first in the country. Managers say it has worked out well and made the restaurant pretty popular.

The news made me wonder of any Wichita Paneras were candidates for drive-throughs, and Eric Cole, the vice president of operations for the group that runs our local stores, said they were. Though he doesn’t have details or dates to share, he said that owners were “working on doing some retros in the Wichita market to make some stores in to drive-throughs.”

I’ll keep you updated when I found out more.

Now, let’s work on Chipotle.

Dash and Dine was delicous — but hot

I wish I could the moves these pizza slices had. From left, Pizza Slice No. 1, Jill, me, Pizza Slice No. 2.

About 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, I seriously regretted pre-registering for the Dash and Dine 5K Run/Walk, a first -year event that started at 2 p.m. in Sedgwick County Park.

It was Oct. 21, but it was HOT (nearly 90 degrees), and it was 2 p.m. The race itself was sweaty and somewhat miserable.

But the after-race was a lot of fun. Several restaurants and food vendors were gathered out the park passing out delicious food. I sampled a healthy brownie from Green Acres, tried a hot dog from Relish It, gobbled down a no-bake cookie from Cake Face, and had my photo taken with dancing Papa Murphy’s slices. I also finally got to try one of Panera’s pumpkin bagels, which was totally worth the sweaty run.

It was a small race, but the crowd was fun. The race shirt was quite attractive, and my friend, Jill, won a medal for placing second in her age category.

I hope the run, which raised money for United Way of the Plains, returns next year. I’d definitely run it again, though I’d prefer some more October-like weather next time.

Dash and Dine: A 5K that ends with eating

The 5K is the trendiest way to raise money in Wichita these days, but the one coming up in a couple of weeks sounds like my kind of race.

It’s called the Dash and Dine 5K Run/Walk, and it ends with food from local restaurants.

The race is being put on by Cargill as a fundraiser for United Way of the Plains. It starts at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 and snakes through Sedgwick County Park. When racers are finished, they can try food from several local food vendors, including Pita Pit, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Cake Face Bake Shop, B&S Sandwich Press, Green Acres, Panera and more. Non-racers can sample the food, too, for a suggested $2 donation.

Registration is $25 for individuals, $20 for teams and $15 for kids ages 4-12. Participants must register by Oct. 19 at this website or at GoRun Wichita East and West or at New Balance East and West.

Cargill hopes to make the race an annual event. I share that hope.

The flavors of fall have arrived

Panera's pumpkin pie bagel. Holy yum.

I always, always love it when September rolls around and restaurants start rolling out their pumpkin flavors again.

You know the long, hotness of summer is almost over when Starbucks starts serving its pumpkin spice latte again. (They brought it back extra early this year — on Sept. 1.) And more places every year are adding pumpkiny, spicy flavors to their menus. I was just in Panera the other day and noticed a PUMPKIN PIE BAGEL. Calories shmalories. I’m havin’ one of those.

Have you spotted any other places selling pumpkiny goodness? Let me know in the comments section below.

Great Harvest is getting crusty

Tim and MariAnn Heeren, owners of Great Harvest Bread Company

For the most part, cooks can get by with the ingredients sold in Wichita stores, especially since the arrival of the “Gucci Dillons” at Central and Rock.

But there’s one exception.

Wichita is severely lacking in crusty bread department. None of the grocery stores carry anything resembling a nice, crusty loaf. Panera will do in a pinch, but the good stuff tends to go early.

Great Harvest Bread Company, which recently completed its move from 6509 E. Central to a bigger space at 535 N. Woodlawn, has just added a new selection of crusty breads, owner Tim Heeren told me this morning.

He now offers several varieties of sourdough loaves, including asiago and Kalamata olive flavored, as well as crusty French baguettes and ciabatta bread.

I haven’t tried the new bread, but I can vouch for Great Harvest’s fabulous braided challah bread, which it sells each Friday. Slice it, toast it, slather it with butter and honey, thank me later.

Great Harvest’s new breads are available from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. They’re open on Mondays, too, but they spend that day making the “starter” that fuels the bread.

Flavors of fall keep keep coming

Several local chains are putting fall-friendly foods on their menus, and I, for one, approve.

Some of the dishes are new. Others are old favorites that the hungry masses wait for every year.

IHOP's Scary Face pancake is too cute to be scary, if you ask me.

I already told you about the glorious return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

IHOP will return its fabulous pumpkin pancakes to the menu on Monday and serve them until Halloween. During that time, the breakfast chain also is offering all-you-can-eat buttermilk pancakes, and for children 12 and under, “Scary Face” pancakes made with whipped cream mouths, strawberry noses and Oreos and candy corn for decorating. On Oct. 28,  children can get a free Scary Face pancakes, and parents even can sign up on for a wake-up call on October 28 from Count Spatula reminding them about the free scary pancake day. Bwahahahahaaaaaaaaaaa.

Panera also has added several fall items to its menu, including a roasted turkey artichoke panini, a chocolate pecan babka pastry, a cherry vanilla bagel, steak chili with cornbread, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin spiced lattes.

Know of any others?

No such thing as too much Freddy’s

Randy Simon and Scott Redler were greeting customers today at the brand-new Freddy's/Panera combo at Maple and Ridge.

Over lunch, I went to make double, triple sure that Scott Redler really had opened the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard that he built dangerously close to my neighborhood.

Alas, he had, and I have a gut full of shoe-string fries to prove it. The latest store, which he owns along with partners Bill and Randy Simon, is the sixth in the Wichita area and the chain’s 49th.

The new Freddy’s is attached to a Panera, which is owned by Randy Simon. It will open on April 25.

Any time I speak to groups in town about restaurants and they ask me about my favorite burger, I always babble on and on about Freddy’s. Their steakburgers are sublime — grilled super flat until they’re crispy on the edges, fixed together by melted cheese and topped with thick pickles sliced longways. I prefer them to almost any burger I’ve ever had. (This won’t work for people who like their burgers thick, but to each her own, I say.)

Scott also persuaded forced me to sample his favorite Freddy’s concoction: Vanilla custard blended with liquid peanut butter (!!!!!!!!!), Reese’s Peices and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He’s as smart as he is successful.

And now, thanks to him, I owe the treadmill about five miles.

Freddy’s/Panera update

Construction on the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard/Panera combo at the intersection of Maple and Ridge is a tad behind schedule.

But if the weather cooperates, the stores should be open within a month. The updated opening date is now early April. Freddy’s will open first, and a week later, Panera will follow.

The building will contain about 7,500 square feet, with Panera taking 4,250 and some patio space and Freddy’s using nearly 3,200 feet with a patio and a drive through window.

Feed the kids without guilt

Red Robin is one of Wichita's most kid-friendly restaurants.

Parents magazine is out with the results of its 10 Best Restaurant Chains survey, and Wichita has all but three of them.

The survey was intended to gather a list of restaurants where families can get the most nutritious foods for the best price while having the least stressful experience — a trifecta that most parents would insist doesn’t exist.

Here’s the list, which will appear in the April issue, scheduled to hit newsstands on March 15.

1. Jason’s Deli: Wichita has two of these — one at 7447 W. 21st and 2000 N. Rock Road.
2.  Cosi: This sandwich and soup chain has its nearest location in Tulsa.
3. Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes: This chain specializes in soups and salads, too, and has a store in Overland Park.
4. Red Lobster: Wichita’s are at 555 S. West St. and 333 S. Towne East Mall Drive.
5. Chipotle: We have four– at 515 N. Hillside, 2241 N. Maize Road, 3015 N. Rock Road and 535 S. Rock Road.
6. Noodles & Company: The city’s first Noodles & Company opened late last year at 3300 N. Rock Road.
7. Red Robin: Kids love Wichita’s Red Robin, which is at 9990 E. 13th St.
8. Mimi’s Cafe: This chain offers healthy home cooking and has a restaurant by Oak Park Mall in Overland Park.
9. Panera Bread: Wichita has three existing Panera’s, and a fourth will open soon at Maple and Ridge.
10. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro: Wichita’s P.F. Chang’s is at 1401 N. Waterfront Parkway.