If you frequent St. Louis Bread Company (known to those outside St. Louis as Panera), you can hardly fail to notice people working. Yes, the employees are busy serving up soups, sandwiches and scones. But I'm talking about the people hunched over their laptops and talking business over coffee and bagels.
“We see interviews taking place," area director Don Hutcheson said. "There’s cubicle zombies that are looking to get out of their office and sit down with a (cup) of coffee. It's a real big escape for lots of people."
I am one of those people. Patch does not have offices, so I divide my time between a desk in my spare bedroom and tables at cafés. Bread Co. is ideal for lots of reasons.
Plenty of locations around metro St. Louis? Check. Clean environment? Check. Tolerance for people who spend hours at a time nursing the same iced tea as they work? Check. Free Wi-Fi? Check, although there are time limits during the lunch rush. Bread Co. began offering free Wi-Fi in 2003, Hutcheson said.
Enough electrical outlets? Well, not so much. While Bread Co. can be relied upon to serve up pretty tasty fare across the board, not all of its branches are created equal when it comes to the ability to plug in.
Counting electrical outlets at coffee shops has become a bit of an obsession of mine, so I wanted to know how Bread Co. determines how many its restaurants should have.
Hutcheson said that many of the older bakery-cafes were built and designed before Bread Co. even conceived of legions of people using them as offices, not to mention the wireless revolution. As locations are remodeled, the company considers adding more features, including outlets. When it comes to building new bakery-cafes, Hutcheson said, Bread Co. carefully considers how many of its customers use their laptops and other devices.
With the help of editors in some of our Patch communities, I assembled this survey of Bread Co. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it shows the variety in Panera plug-ability.
- The bakery-cafe on Central Avenue in downtown Clayton is one of three St. Louis Bread Company Cares branches around the country. Their motto? "Take what you need, leave your fair share." Basically, you pay what you can afford or would like to donate. My favorite spot for plugging in is to the left of the entrance—a booth near the window. It has a total of three outlets.
- The is pretty flush when it comes to outlets: There are four along a counter with stools. That makes it easy to plug in and get to work. I counted three other outlets around the restaurant.
- The Richmond Heights (built in 2010) has about 10 outlets, most conveniently located at booths.
- The on Lindbergh is pretty busy all day long, but it has only one electrical outlet. It's located along the wall a few tables to the right of the entrance. Florissant Patch editor Aja Junior wrote in response to the topic: "Some (people) use a kind of 'split outlet,' which would allow three or four people to use the outlet versus two. Others, such as myself, stalk out the table closest to the outlet until the previous person leaves the table."
- If you can find a parking spot anywhere near the front door of the location at Westport Plaza, you will be rewarded. This Bread Co. has at least five outlets. Look for the armchairs and lamps to the right of the entrance. You also can plug in at other spots around the dining room.
- This Bread Co. off of Highway 40 has six outlets, all on outside walls and tables, not at booths. One wall with two outlets has a small round table that only seats two. Another wall has two tables and an outlet for each. Another outlet is near the back door near two comfy chairs.
- The on the Delmar Loop is a virtual worker's dream. This branch has least 10 outlets that I have counted. They are mostly along walls near tables that seat two people. Myra Lopez considers this location her official virtual office and a .
- There are two locations in Creve Coeur. The bakery-cafe on Ballas has at least six outlets that we could find. The Old Olive restaurant has at least five.
- At the in St. Peters, we counted four outlets. A few are somewhat camouflaged—black plastic against dark wall coverings.
All in all, Bread Co. serves up a pretty welcoming work environment for those of us in the virtual life. The food is reasonably priced, the coffee it hot and you can work there as many hours as you like. That Panera Card is pretty sweet, too: You can rack up points toward free beverages, pastries and other goodies.
Hutcheson told me that last month in Missouri, an average of 200 customers per bakery-cafe used its free Wi-Fi daily. Those people included, he said, a regular who writes screen plays, computer programmers and authors, not to mention journalists.
I asked if the Florissant Bread Co. would be getting additional outlets any time soon. Turns out, that bakery-cafe is not slated for renovations in the near future. Note to self: Pick up a power strip and extension cord for my next visit.