Thursday, June 20, 2024

Panera Bread baguette is good for a chain, great when it’s hot out of the oven and over-the-top terrific when it’s an example of good customer service. (Photo: Robyn Lee)

I think the Porter Square Panera Bread is here to stay for a while — and I suddenly have warm feelings to hope that’s so.

The eatery, which opened July 6 at what is technically 5 White St. in the shopping plaza, is Porter’s answer to the gourmet-ish comfort food of Au Bon Pain enjoyed by folks in Harvard, Kendall and Davis squares. But it did something for me last night no Au Bon Pain, its one-time kind-of owner, has ever done: won my cranky customer’s heart with great service.

I went in too late Tuesday night and found the basket of baguette (what the company likes to call “French baguette”) empty. I quizzed the workers with some desperation as to whether there might yet be a loaf hiding out somewhere, or even anything like a baguette. But no, the site had been slammed that day and had run out hours ago of an appealing plain bread.

Since Panera is my only local baguette option, I was out of luck. I didn’t even bother checking the nearby Shaw’s grocery store to see if it had any store-made baguette, which is not only the most expensive baguette I know of, but probably the worst I’ve ever tasted. And, if it’s not too old a joke, it usually sells out by the time I go looking.

Wednesday, though, I made it to Panera earlier; was briefly shattered to see the basket empty again; then elated to hear there were loaves just then fresh from the oven, so fresh they hadn’t been slipped into paper sleeves and stocked. I ordered one. “How many?” the manager asked. “Just one,” I repeated, asking the worker at the counter how many he thought I could eat.

But he gave me two — explaining it was to make up for my disappointment the previous night. (I don’t remember crying, just whining.)

Nice going, Panera manager.

I was stunned and delighted, a feeling that lasted through my walk home in the cold tearing off hot hunks of crusty bread, and lingered afterward.

Qdoba lasted there from January 2005 to June 2010, despite how universally its Mexican food was disdained compared with the competing Chipotle chain and certainly the Anna’s Taqueria across the street. With service and product such as this, Panera should be around for decades. And I may buy baguette there every night I can.

(Because we’re past that union problem, right?)