San Francisco-based restaurant company acquires KC area Panera Bread locations

Pan American Group LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Flynn Restaurant Group LP, has acquired 34 Panera Bread Bakery-Cafe locations in Kansas and Missouri from Wichita-based Original Bread Inc.

The locations include those in the metro area, Lawrence and Topeka. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Pan American Group, which is based in San Francisco, will now be the second-largest Panera Bread franchisee, increasing its unit count from 96 locations to 130.

Original Bread Inc. was founded in 1993 by Randy Simon, Howard Wilkins, Art Anast and Mark Babich. It was the first franchisee of St. Louis Bread, the predecessor to Panera Bread, when it opened a location in Overland Park, then the 19th for the chain, in 1994. It later became one of the largest Panera Bread franchisees with more than 1,300 employees at area restaurants, as well as Panera locations in Manhattan, Wichita, St. Joseph and Sedalia.

In a statement, Simon, now president and CEO of Original Bread, said: “Growing with Panera over the last 24 years has been an experience for which I will always be grateful.... Our team is confident that Flynn Restaurant Group will carry on our standards of excellence in service and our preeminence in community involvement. Their leadership role in the restaurant industry will allow them to fully implement all the new initiatives which Panera has slated for national roll-out.”

The sale of the company was prompted by health issues and the subsequent passing of Wilkins late last year. Wilkins was an early Pizza Hut franchisee and former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands under President George H.W. Bush.

For more than four decades, Wilkins and Simon partnered in various businesses. In 2002, Simon co-founded Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers with his brother Bill Simon and friend Scott Redler, and Wilkins was an early investor. Simon plans to continue to grow the Freddy’s brand, which currently includes 266 locations operating in 30 states with commitments to grow to 500 restaurants by 2020.

Flynn Restaurant Group LP is one of the largest restaurant franchise operators. Its subsidiary Apple American Group LLC is the largest Applebee’s franchisee with 447 restaurants, and its subsidiary Bell American Group is the third largest Taco Bell franchisee with 274 locations. Overall Flynn Restaurant Group owns and operates 881 restaurants in 30 states, generating $1.9 billion in sales and employing about 42,000 people.

In a statement, Greg Flynn, founder, chairman and CEO of Flynn Restaurant Group, said: “Randy and his partners have built a tremendous business, and we look forward to continuing to deliver the exceptional Panera experiences that Original Bread has provided its guests in Kansas and Missouri for the past 23 years.”

Joyce Smith: 816-234-4692, @JoyceKC