Panera Bread opens near Maple and Ridge

WICHITA — Randy Simon’s fourth Wichita Panera Bread store opened today next to the new Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers near Maple and Ridge.

When Simon opened his first Panera here in 1995 — back when it was still St. Louis Bread Co. — it was the 37th in the chain.

He had four of the chain’s first 40 stores.

“Which is kind of fun to look back and see how long it’s been going on for us,” Simon says.

With his new Panera, he says, “We’re somewhere in the upper 1,400s.

“They’re opening them pretty rapidly these days.”

And they’re doing well.

“It’s one of the two or three systems that seems to be holding up well,” Simon says of surviving tough times.

He’s still working on a Derby Panera at Derby Marketplace.

“We think that one’s going to open yet this year,” Simon says. “We have a few things we’re still trying to get ironed out.”

And for the more distant future, Simon is looking at Wichita’s south side.

He doesn’t like to open too many restaurants at once, though, so restaurant-starved southsiders shouldn’t get too excited just yet.

However, there’s hope.