Santa Barbara’s newest Panera Bread location hosted an open house Friday — complete with cameo from an NFL star franchisee — in an effort to show the community that the restaurant plans to give residents more than just a stellar menu.
The restaurant, which opened two weeks ago at 700 State St. as the city’s second location, is providing the community with jobs, daily donating leftover bread to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and partnering with the Foodbank’s Grow Your Own Way (GYOW) program, designed to educate students and adults alike about healthy eating and growing habits.
Franchisee co-owners and former USC and NFL football stars Keyshawn Johnson and Reggie Bush and other business partners hosted Friday’s invitation-only event, which featured free samples of some of Panera’s signature and brand-new baked goods and dishes.
Johnson, Bush and several other professional athletes are part owners of the franchise that now boasts nine locations from Ventura County through San Luis Obispo County. The Panera at 3851 State St. in Santa Barbara is also part of their franchise.
Johnson made the trip to Santa Barbara from his home near Los Angeles to be a part of the event that showcased ways Panera is doing some things for the good of the community.
Being a team player is something Johnson said he’s familiar with.
“That’s been my motto my whole adult life,” Johnson told Noozhawk, noting that providing jobs is a huge positive for any community.
The restaurant remained open during the open house as invited guests enjoyed the cordoned-off patio area — a gesture to show that all community members are welcome, said Ingrid Roberts, a principal and managing director of First Picks Management, the company representing the professional athletes.
“We really want to be connected to our community,” Roberts said.
Oscar Carmona, owner of local Healing Grounds Nursery who helped create the GYOW program, said he, Johnson, Bush and other volunteers visited Isla Vista Elementary a few weeks ago to help teach and make students aware of where their food comes from.
Students received their own planting kit, Carmona said, and Panera owners awarded a $3,000 check to keep the school’s financially strapped garden-education program going over the summer and into the fall.
“They’re coming into the community in a meaningful way,” Carmona said.