Panera Bread aims to finish expansion during summer

Mike Levine

Panera Bread in Evanston is spending some serious dough.

Since yeast can’t make the store expand, the store has to dig into its own pockets to pay for a $260,000 expansion.

“It is one of our busiest units, with the smallest square footage,” said Jeff Nave, Panera Bread’s Chicago area director. “We are excited to be able to offer a better dining experience in the future.”

The expansion will triple the store’s seating area, Nave said.

“This will allow us to provide a separate party (and) meeting room as well as lots of space for chilling out and banks of tables specifically designed for laptop use,” he said.

Expansion plans for Panera started baking last summer when the store leased an adjacent vacant space at 805 Church St., Evanston store manager Yolanda Mendoza said. The space was occupied by Foot Locker, whose store closed nearly two years ago and moved to a new location across from Panera Bread on Sherman Avenue.

The expansion plans, though, are still only half-baked. Mendoza said she hopes the project will be completed sometime this summer, but construction schedules continue to change.

“We are still waiting for city of Evanston approval that will change the current retail use of the new space to restaurant use,” Nave said.

The store would be the only local bakery to receive such a zoning change.

But Marcus Morgan, the manager of Wilmette’s Panera Bread, 1199 Wilmette Ave., said expansion at that location remains a possibility.

“It’s about volume,” he said. “It’s about accommodating the customer.”