By Dave DeWitte
CORALVILLE – Panera Bread Co. is reviving plans for a bakery on First Avenue in Coralville with the addition of a new technology-based service system that can speed order input and delivery for customers.
The new bakery at a location vacated by Taco Bell after the June 2008 floods will feature a “rapid pickup station.” Customers who order and pay online or by mobile device will simply “walk in and grab their food,” explained John Kauffman, spokesman for Panera Bread of Iowa.
Construction on the new bakery is expected to begin at the end of April and be completed at the end of August.
Mr. Kauffman said the bakery will be Panera Bread’s first in Iowa with the rapid pickup station and first in the Iowa City-Coralville market to feature a drive-through window.
Although it won’t initially be available in the store, the project is designed to add “kiosk ordering,” in which customers who don’t want to fight a line will be able to input their own order by hand using an app on an Apple iPad in the restaurant.
Panera Bread of Iowa first announced and later canceled plans for the store in 2011. The site is adjacent to the Iowa River, and the city of Coralville was in the planning stages for a new flood protection structure. The company cited the impact of the flood protection planning on its project timetable and use of the site when it canceled the project.
The flood control work appears largely complete at the site, and Mr. Kauffman indicated that everything is on again.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Mr. Kauffman said of the initial project cancellation. Had the project not been delayed, he said Panera of Iowa would not have been able to bring the company’s newest prototype store with the new service features that reduce pickup and ordering times.
Handling large volumes of peak-period customers has proven to be a defining challenge for Panera Bread’s growth. With a growing number of customers doing their ordering via the Internet, Mr. Kauffman said the company is able to ease the customer service friction caused by wait times.
Panera Bread of Iowa operates two other bakery cafes in the Iowa City-Coralville market. One is at Sycamore Mall and one is at Coral Ridge Mall. Mr. Kauffman said the First Avenue site remained appealing to the company because of its convenience for visitors to the University of Iowa, particularly University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and its new outpatient center at Iowa River Landing, which is located near the I-80 First Avenue exit.
The new bakery cafe will seat 96 inside and 26 in an outdoor dining patio. The company has already begun assembling a team of six managers, Mr. Kauffman said. It will employ about 60, counting managers, bakers and support personnel