Drive-through Panera Bread open for business in Lincoln

Drive-through Panera Bread open for business in Lincoln

Panera Bread and its first Rhode Island drive-through officially opened on Wednesday with a team of employees led by, at far right, General Manager Chrissy Serpa of Cranston, and District Manager Mark Drapeau of North Providence. The restaurant is part of the new Albion Commons development on George Washington Highway. (VALLEY BREEZE PHOTO BY MEGHAN KAVANAUGH)

LINCOLN - After a week of soft openings to raise money for local charities and organizations, Panera Bread and its first Rhode Island drive-through window are officially open for business.

Sharing a newly renovated parking lot with the Bank of America at 613 George Washington Highway, the restaurant serving soups, sandwiches, salads and fresh bread and baked goods opened its doors on Wednesday.

The restaurant, one of more than 20 owned by the Howley Bread Group, is part of the new Albion Commons, a development by Link Commercial Properties owner Frank Paolino located on either side of the road, which also includes Coastway Community Bank, PieZoni's, Elite Physical Therapy, Fitness Together, Sport Clips and a spa business.

Wendy Kopp, Panera Bread's director of marketing, said Albion Commons "is good for the town," and beautifies the area that was previously two vacant parking lots. Panera Bread had always had an interest in opening a Lincoln location, she said.

This is the first drive-through Panera Bread experience for General Manager Chrissy Serpa, a Cranston resident who has been working for the company since 2001.

She said adding the window makes her job "like managing two businesses under one roof," but test runs have been successful.

"It's like watching your baby walk for the first time," she said.

Customers donated $10 to local charities this week in exchange for a free meal, which raised more than $2,600 for Children's Friends. Donation totals for Lincoln Public Schools and Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry were not available as of press time.

The restaurant, which seats 86 inside and 22 on an outdoor patio, will also host charitable events through the weekend. On Friday, Dec. 6, the first 500 customers to show up after doors open at 5:30 a.m. get a free travel mug to fill with 30 days of free coffee refills. Cat Country radio station will also kick off the morning with a broadcast from the cafe.

Then on Saturday, Dec. 7, from noon to 2 p.m., there will be a RIPTA-sponsored "Stuff a Bus" event in the parking lot, collecting donations for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. All who donate a non-perishable item will receive coffee from Panera.

Throughout the year, area food pantries will also be able to collect the day's leftover breads and baked goods, which are baked fresh in the Lincoln location each morning by three bakers.

District Manager Mark Drapeau, of North Providence, said he expects this location to become a popular destination in the community.

"I think we're going to be very busy," he said.

Panera Bread is open Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Visit www.panerabread.jobs to inquire about employment opportunities.