Answer Man: St. Louis Bread Company vs. Panera

News-DemocratMay 14, 2014 

Your recent answer about McDonald's prompts a question I have had for years. Why are Hardee's restaurants called Hardee's here and Carl's Jr. in other parts of the country? And why are Panera restaurants called St. Louis Bread Company here and Panera Bread elsewhere? Why haven't they chosen one name to use nationally? I used to think both consisted of two different companies. -- Louis Krummel, of Fairview Heights

As it turns out, your original thought was absolutely correct: Both current companies have resulted from the merger of two previously independent chains.

But when it came time to name the new conglomerations, both decided to leave well enough alone. They figured most people familiar with a brand they enjoyed would more likely keep patronizing it than if they were suddenly confronted by some strange name they had never seen before -- especially in the case of the St. Louis Bread Co.

Besides, look at all the money you save by not having to buy new signs and advertising campaigns to introduce yourself to a new region. So by now, I hope it's less of a puzzle why we still see all four familiar names. Here's a short history of each.

In 1941, Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret, reportedly borrowed $311 on their Plymouth to buy a hot dog cart in Anaheim, Calif. One cart grew to four and, within five years, led to the first Carl's Drive-In restaurant, also in Anaheim.

Karcher soon began to expand, opening smaller versions of his flagship restaurant in Anaheim and Brea -- hence, Carl's Jr. By 1981, Carl Karcher Enterprises (CKE) was a publicly traded company with 300 restaurants.

At the same time, Wilbur Hardee was becoming a major fast-food mogul on the East Coast. He opened his first restaurant in Greenville, N.C., on Sept. 9, 1960. With its Big Twin and Big Deluxe sandwiches, it ballooned to more than 4,000 locations in less than 20 years.

But despite later acquiring the Roy Rogers chicken recipe as well as Rax roast beef, it saw its fortunes begin to sag, falling to just 2,000 restaurants by the mid-1990s. Finally, in 1997, CKE bought Hardee's and changed some Carl's Jr.s to Hardee's but left most alone. Four years later, the Hardee's headquarters moved from Rocky Mount, N.C., to St. Louis.

It was much the same story for Panera/St. Louis Bread, Panera spokeswoman Mandy Burns told me. In 1981, Ron Shaich co-founded Au Bon Pain -- French for (Place) of Good Bread, a Boston-based bakery-cafe chain. Six years later, the St. Louis Bread Company opened and grew to 19 locations.

Then, after buying the St. Louis business in 1993, Shaich became even more ambitious. In 1999, he sold Au Bon so he could concentrate on building the St. Louis Bread Co. concept into a national brand. Elsewhere he began using the name Panera, loosely Latin for "time of bread," Burns said. But he apparently thought messing with a hometown icon would be a half-baked idea, so we in the metro-east continue to frequent the St. Louis Bread Co.

We are constantly told that Americans are the most charitable people on Earth. How do we know Italians don't give more? -- Bud Ridings, of Greenville

Because experts like Arthur Brooks, author of "Who Really Cares," say so, that's how.

In a 2008 article in The American Magazine, he found that Americans gave, per capita, nearly four times more than the French, seven times more than the Germans -- and 14 times more than the Italians.

Similarly, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss and 32 percent more likely than the Germans.

More recently, Britain-based Charities Aid Foundation polled 1,000 people in each of 153 countries and found U.S. residents the most likely to have donated money, volunteered their time or helped a stranger within the past month. He says this dates back to the country's earliest days when Americans relied on themselves rather than the government.

The results were no surprise to Adam Meyerson of the Philanthropy Roundtable.

"This study is consistent with many other studies showing that America is by far the most charitable country on Earth," he told Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal. "We give about 2 percent of our national income to charity; most other countries give 1 percent or much less."

So even though you may not be able to give billions like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, you still can feel proud if you've played some role in this great national sharing.

Today's trivia

How did they choose "Emmy" as the name of the annual television awards?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: There are two radio stations in the United States that let you know where you are just by announcing their call letters. In the Northeast, there's WARE-AM (1250), real oldies radio in Ware, Mass. Down South, you can tune in WACO-FM (99.9) in Waco, Texas -- "a station so big they named the entire city after it," as it likes to say. There used to be a WISE-FM in Wise, Virginia, but it now broadcasts the WVTF NPR signal. Wise, by the way, is the hometown of Oscar winner (and refuser) George C. Scott.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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