Will Panera Leave St. Louis Heartbroken?

The fast casual chain might be making the one change no one ever thought it would.

To the observant Illinoisan, it's obvious when you're dealing with someone from St. Louis. I can't quite explain it; there's simply a je ne sais quoi coolness to those who walk through the world with a hometown knowledge of so-bad-it's-good regional pizza and architecturally impressive local monuments. But there's one dead giveaway that you've met a Missourian: they resolutely refer to Panera Bread as the St. Louis Bread Company and snicker at anyone who does otherwise. That's because the latter name is the company's true identity—or it will be up until an upcoming rebrand renders St. Louis a Panera town once and for all.

Allow us to explain. The fast casual dining chain that most of the country knows as Panera originated in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri, in 1987. It was appropriately named the St. Louis Bread Company; it wasn't until the chain was purchased by Au Bon Pain and franchised nationally in 1997 that its name was changed to Panera Bread, presumably to appeal to a broader audience. The company's St. Louis–based locations retained the original name with its local flavor, and those in the know would only recognize it as such.

Now, however, the Riverfront Times reports that an employee told the publication Panera is planning to change the name of all St. Louis Bread Co. locations to Panera, purportedly a cost-saving measure for the brand so it doesn't have to maintain two sets of copyrights, promotional materials, signage, and anything else that goes into the admittedly unusual arrangement.

While an email from the Riverfront Times to Panera's corporate offices went unanswered, employees can often be a reliable source on such developments. The demise of Popeyes Cajun Rice and the death of the Choco Taco were both first relayed to The Takeout by non-corporate employees of those companies before official representatives confirmed them. It might be the unfortunate truth that the RFT's source is indeed right about the upcoming name change.

"We get it," wrote the Riverfront Times. "Times are tough. However, we can't ignore how the name switch will gouge a hole in St. Louis culture much like that of a hollowed bread bowl."

We'll wait with bated breath to see what corporate says. In the meantime, we'll start brainstorming other things that St. Louis residents can be smug about. The Slinger, I guess?