Panera Bread/Au Bon Pain: Ron Shaich In the early 1980s, Ron Shaich bought a small, struggling Boston bakery chain called Au Bon Pain, and built it out to 250 locations nationwide. Ron then saw an opportunity to build something even bigger: Panera Bread. It was the start of "fast casual" – a new kind of eating experience, between fast food and restaurant dining. Today, Panera Bread has over 2,000 stores, and $5 billion in annual sales. Plus, for our postscript "How You Built That," how Tyson Walters got so tired of his St. Bernard shedding everywhere that he created the Shed Defender, a zip-up body suit for dogs that captures loose hair.
NPR logo

Panera Bread/Au Bon Pain: Ron Shaich

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Panera Bread/Au Bon Pain: Ron Shaich

Panera Bread/Au Bon Pain: Ron Shaich

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RON SHAICH: We were making spinach croissant. We'd buy the spinach frozen. We didn't have a way to get rid of the water. And somebody came up with the idea, well, let's buy a dozen clothes dryers, and we'll put the spinach in the clothes dryer. That will dissipate the water. It was a great idea until, one day, we blew the top off the dryer...


Oh, my gosh.

SHAICH: ...And ended up with spinach in all 3,000 square feet of the production space.


RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.


RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how Ron Shaich built a successful bakery called Au Bon Pain and then took a big bet to build an even bigger restaurant chain, Panera.


RAZ: Ron Shaich isn't a household name like, say, Howard Schultz, but you could argue that what Howard Schultz did for coffee Ron Shaich did for cheddar broccoli soup or the asiago cheese bagel because, like Howard, Ron wasn't just focused on a product. He was interested in creating a space, a place where people could hang out for a long time, maybe even have a PTA meeting or social gathering and really linger over that bagel or cup of soup. This is the famous third-place concept that both Howard Schultz and Ron Shaich wanted to tap into. And that's how Panera became one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the world. In fact, if you'd invested $7,000 in Panera's stock in 1999, you'd be sitting on more than half a million dollars by 2017.

Now, the thing is if you met Ron Shaich, say, in high school, this is not the path you'd have predicted for him. Ron wasn't even interested in business. His passion was politics. His parents were raging liberals, and Ron grew up going to rallies and volunteering on campaigns all over New Jersey. He eventually went to Clark University, where, naturally, he majored in politics. And he was quickly elected to student government. And that could have been Ron's life, except for one day when something happened to Ron and a group of friends, something kind of small but something that, when you look back on it, probably changed his entire life.

SHAICH: Yeah, so we were in a local convenience store called Store 24 across the street from the main entrance to the Clark campus. And they accused us of shoplifting and tossed us out - asked us to leave.

RAZ: Were you guys just being rowdy or - wild or anything?

SHAICH: No, we were shopping. But I came back to campus, and I was in my dorm room with a couple of friends, and I said, you know, why are we shopping there? How the heck can they treat us like this?

RAZ: Sure.

SHAICH: We're what supports that store. We said, what do we need them for? We can do this ourselves. We can have our own convenience store. And I said, you know, this isn't going to be that hard. Let's go do it. And we approached the university. They weren't so keen on this, but I moved the question to the student body. They voted in support of it. And I basically agreed to spend that summer between my sophomore and junior year opening this convenience store, Guy.

RAZ: Wow. So what did you guys sell?

SHAICH: Oh, we sold everything from drinks to munchies to cookies and candy. And, you know, our system manager would come to my apartment at 5 in the morning, and we actually would go to this deep-discount supermarket and buy - I don't know - 10 or 15 baskets full of merchandise that we'd stock the store with. And we hired 20 or 30 different students to work there. I will be very frank in saying to you I was more interested in that store than I was in my own academic life.

RAZ: And you're a guy who's still focused on public policy and government. But I guess this was kind of cool. You liked - you kind of liked doing business. You liked running a business.

SHAICH: Yeah. And, you know, I didn't see myself as that kind of guy. And it took me a while to make sense of that. But in so many ways, running a business is no different than a campaign. In fact, a campaign is a business that essentially has one day in which it ends. A business is a campaign that goes on and never ends.


RAZ: So at this point in his life, Ron wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do - business or politics. But people around him saw how much he loved running that convenience store. And a lot of people said, hey, why don't you get an MBA? So Ron did. He enrolled at Harvard Business School in 1976. And when he finished, unlike a lot of his classmates who went into banking or finance, Ron decided to go into retail. And he took a job in the Midwest at a place called The Original Cookie Company.

SHAICH: Twenty stores in shopping malls. We grew it to about 125. I took the job as the third year of the MBA. What I mean by that is I took a job as a district manager, basically. I ran 10 or 15 of these cookie stores - half the United States. And I spent my time running around the country. And I ended up opening dozens of these cookie stores around the country.

RAZ: So at a certain point - I mean, so you're learning about the cookie business, I guess. And then - what? - at a certain point, you get this idea like, hey, wait - I can do this myself. I can have my own cookie store?

SHAICH: Yes. And I can literally remember traveling across Indiana on my way to Fort Wayne to open a new cookie store, and it hit me. And I said, why are we opening this in a mall? There's a huge opportunity to open these in an urban setting. Why don't we open one? And I can remember going to my boss. I remember him taking me to meet the CEO of the company. I said, I want to open an urban cookie store. And he looks at me, and he says, we don't do that here. We open mall-based retail units.

And I thought to myself, well, if you're not going to do it, I'd like to go do it. Why shouldn't we? And I'm the kind of guy who, if I say I'm going to do it, I want to go do it. And it led me to actually resigning my job, and I moved back to Boston. And I started looking for real estate. And the reality was nobody would lease me space.

RAZ: For a cookie store?

SHAICH: Couldn't find any - for a cookie store.

RAZ: Because they thought it wouldn't make enough money to pay the rent?

SHAICH: Because I had no credibility.

RAZ: Yeah, right.

SHAICH: I had no real money. I had, you know, no balance sheet to sign a lease. And so I went to my dad, and I said, I want my inheritance. Whatever it's going to be, I want the opportunity to use it. And I had about $25,000. My dad essentially lent me - gave me $75,000, and that $100,000 became the grubstake, the equity that allowed us to build that first 400-square-foot cookie store...

RAZ: Wow.

SHAICH: ...In downtown Boston.

RAZ: What did you name the store?

SHAICH: We named it The Cookie Jar. And I can remember we took the Toll House recipe right off the bag.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: I bought a small mixer. And I would pass out cookies in front of the store as we were building it. And I'd start to adjust the recipe based on what I learned talking to customers.

RAZ: And you were the baker - you were making the cookies yourself?

SHAICH: Yeah. We opened - there were three employees. I mean, it was me and two folks. I will never forget that day. It just seemed like people never stopped walking - coming in and purchasing. We had 50,000 people a day going by. And I'll never forget it. I got to the end of the day...

RAZ: Fifty-thousand people a day walking past that store, just foot traffic?

SHAICH: Yeah. But I got to the end of that first afternoon - we opened at 1 o'clock, Guy. And by 6, we closed. And my back was hurting. My legs were hurting. And I counted the money, and I realize we had only brought in $400. I mean, you forget when we talk about business what it is to sell 400 batches of cookies at a buck each and the amount of energy and work that goes into it.

RAZ: I mean, that sounds pretty good, though - I mean, especially for the first day.

SHAICH: Well, you know, Guy, you - the reality of the cookie business - and basically any business is - you've got to pay the rent. The staff is essentially going to be there. So the question is, what's your value? And I was there maybe four or five months. You know, we were surviving, weren't making a lot of money. It was a fun gig, but I wanted more.

RAZ: What was your vision for Cookie Jar? Did you imagine it being like that cookie company you worked for in Ohio, that it would be a big chain of cookie stores? Was that what you were thinking long term?

SHAICH: You know, it's so funny. I have never started with a tight goal in mind. What I have always done - and to this day still do - I see an opportunity, I wade out into the water, and I try to figure out where that opportunity is going to take me. It's a little like bodysurfing when you go on vacation - you go to the ocean.

You know, you get out far enough away from shore. You start to watch the waves come in. And then you choose a wave, and you think that's going to be a powerful wave. And then you get on that wave, and you see where it takes you. And you start to navigate and negotiate your way to shore.

And so, for me, the cookie store was not an end but a means to take me to the next place. I just loved the process of figuring it out. I loved the doing of the work. I was working 100 hours a week, and it never felt like work. It was joy.


RAZ: You also said just a minute ago that you - that it wasn't enough, that you wanted more. So what - like, what was your plan to take The Cookie Jar, you know, to the next level?

SHAICH: Well, it was really interesting. I mean, I saw these 50,000 people a day going by, but nobody bought cookies before 12 noon. And I thought to myself, wow, what can we do with this? And I thought, you know, why don't we put in French baked goods? They seem to be growing in popularity. People were buying croissant and the like. And I went to a local - to a company called Au Bon Pain.

RAZ: It was a small - just a local Boston chain - like, two or three locations?

SHAICH: Yeah. At that point - well, they had three locations. And I became their licensee for the one square block around my little cookie store.

RAZ: In other words, you sold - what? - their croissants?

SHAICH: Well, I actually converted my store to where it had two logos. It had the Au Bon Pain logo, and it had the Cookie Jar logo. And you could get French baked goods that we baked on premise, or you could get the cookies in the afternoon. And the thing started doing very well. But as an operator - and I'm an operator. An operator is the guy who runs these businesses. You know which of your vendors are any good and which aren't. And these folks at Au Bon Pain - it was very clear to me they were out of control. I loved their product. Their product was great.

But as a business, they were disorganized. Sometimes they delivered. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they billed me. Sometimes they didn't. To this day, I'm sure I still owe them money. They just didn't have the basic processes and disciplines. And that's typical in many small businesses. And I saw a powerful opportunity. And I thought to myself, wow, I really could straighten this business out. I really could operate this. So what ended up happening, Guy - I became friends with the gentleman who was running the three Au Bon Pains, a guy who later became my partner, Lou Kane.

RAZ: Lou Kane, right.

SHAICH: And it was clear to him and to me that Au Bon Pain was not going to be able to continue growing or staying in business there. And so I came to them and said, look it. I think I can fix this. You give me 60 percent of the company. You and your investors keep 40 percent. I'll put my cookie store, which was making money, in with your three Au Bon Pains. And we'll create a new company. And it was in that process that we created what it became.

RAZ: So once you did the deal with Lou and Au Bon Pain, what did you do? Like, how did you even start?

SHAICH: Well, I knew how to fix their business. I was committed to doing whatever it took to get this thing off the ground. So after we took over Au Bon Pain, it was a mess. You know, we didn't have a way - we were making spinach croissant. We'd buy the spinach frozen. We didn't have a way to get rid of the water. And somebody came up with the idea well, let's buy a dozen dryers.

RAZ: Like, hair dryers or...

SHAICH: No, clothes dryers. And we'll put the spinach in the clothes dryer. And that will dissipate the water from, you know, frozen spinach.

RAZ: Oh, my gosh.

SHAICH: Well, that was a great idea.

RAZ: You put frozen spinach into clothes dryers?

SHAICH: Well, we let it defrost first, Guy. But we put defrosted spinach in clothes dryers, letting it run off the water. It was a great idea until one day, we blew the top off the dryer and ended up with spinach in all 3,000 square feet of the production space.

RAZ: I used to love those spinach croissants at Au Bon Pain.

SHAICH: You didn't know how they were made, did you?

RAZ: Wow.

SHAICH: But I can literally remember, Guy, we didn't even have the ability to maintain our equipment. And I would use my auto mechanic to help fix the equipment. I didn't know who else to call. And we had a dough divider that was essentially being held together with baling wire and paper clips. My auto mechanic was trying to keep it going. And we were using a hanger as the handle on this dough divider. I was in a bakery at about 3 in the morning. And all of a sudden, you see sparks come off this dough divider. And this guy, the individual who was working on the dough divider, jumps like a deer that had been shot. And he falls on the ground like a raggedy hand doll. And I and everybody else in the production area came running over to this guy. And I can just remember thinking to myself, please, dear God, let this guy survive, you know? I certainly flashed in my mind bakery shut down, you know, baker killed.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: I could imagine it all. And we're all over there. And this ex-Vietnam veteran, tattoos all over his body, working in the bakery comes over and starts to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him, pounding on his chest. And then all of a sudden, this guy who's on the floor opens one eye. And he says, will you please take your tongue out of my mouth? And that's when I knew we were going to be OK.

RAZ: When we come back, how Ron took Au Bon Pain from a small business in Boston to a publicly traded national chain and then how he put all of that success on the line to grow another company, Panera Bread. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz. And you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.


RAZ: Hey. Welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. So something you're going to notice about Ron Shaich and the story of how he eventually builds Panera Bread is just how many times along the way he sees new opportunities or has to improvise and adapt again and again and again. Ron comes to a point where he has to make a big pivot and transform his business. And in 1985, three years after Ron acquires a small French Bakery in Boston called Au Bon Pain, a business that's really struggling, he manages to turn things around with his partner Lou Kane. But it's still a small business. In fact, Ron himself works at the sales counter during the day. But doing that actually helps him figure out, almost by accident, his next opportunity.

SHAICH: In 1984 and 1985, I would be in a restaurant working. And I'd have a customer walk up to me, Guy, and say, could I have that baguette? And I say sure. And they say slice it. I'd hand them the loaf, and they'd pull out a bag from the local supermarket, from a local stop and shop, and they'd put roasted turkey and maybe cheese on it. And you know, you didn't have to be a Harvard MBA to say, wow, the real thing here is that the baguette is not the end. It's the platform to sell sandwiches. And my whole view of business - if you really focus on listening, you will see amazing things. You'll learn amazing things. And these customers, in their behavior, were showing us the opportunity. And so in 1985, we created the first French bakery cafe in the Copley Place mall in Boston.

RAZ: So you decided that you were going to make this a new experience, a new Au Bon Pain experience, where people could come and eat lunch and buy bread.

SHAICH: Yeah. We were going to go from being simply a bakery to a bakery cafe.

RAZ: Right.

SHAICH: And almost instantly, this broken-down company became very hot. People wanted this. I can remember the second day that we opened in Copley Place, we had 50 people in line before we opened the doors.

RAZ: And what were you serving there?

SHAICH: We were serving sandwiches and some soups made on our bread and croissant. But they were differentiated kinds of sandwiches. They were roast beef and Boursin on a real French baguette. It would be roasted turkey and brie cheese. And I think what Au Bon Pain was providing - and I don't think we had the language for it back then - but what the bakery cafe was was an alternative between down-and-dirty fast food and fine dining.

RAZ: Yeah. Yeah.

SHAICH: And for people who were working in white-collar jobs, increasingly in urban settings, this was the first example of what we later came to call fast casual. This was an attempt to do something that was better but in a quick service mode.

RAZ: So once you sort of stumbled on this idea of creating cafes and bakeries, it was off to the races. You just - I mean, at that point, it was clear that you were going to begin a pretty rapid expansion?

SHAICH: Well, Guy, you know, as soon as we came up with this idea of a bakery cafe, we saw all kinds of interest in that. We became hot. You know, every major office building wanted a French bakery cafe. And we found - we developed big competitors. Pepsi came after us. They decided this was going to be the third leg of Pepsi Foodservice. And they'd created something called La Petite Boulangerie. Sara Lee came after us. They bought a chain called Michel's Baguette. And they were going to open 400 stores.

RAZ: Wow.

SHAICH: There was a company in your part of the world down in D.C. called Vie de France.

RAZ: Oh, yeah.

SHAICH: And they were off and running. And we were, quite frankly, the smallest of them. And the interesting part to me, Guy, is every one of these large competitors had people with resumes that would run rings around our guys. All of them had far more money and announced they were going open more stores.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: But every one of them hit the wall. What they didn't have is our people were much more connected. Our guys weren't worrying about their next career move. Our guys were committed in this deep and profound way to making this concept work. So we ended up out-operating all these larger companies. And by 1991, we were validated when we went public - Morgan Stanley took us public. And we really had won the battle to be the dominant bakery cafe operator in America.

RAZ: All right. So something happens early in this period, shortly after you go public, which is Au Bon Pain acquires this small chain of St. Louis-based sandwich shops called the Saint Louis Bread Company. What's the story there? Why did you buy this, like, small chain in St. Louis? Was the idea to turn them into Au Bon Pains?

SHAICH: No. You know, I talk to everybody in our industry. And there's nobody I don't learn from. And I was asked by an investment bank to meet several gentlemen who owned a company called Saint Louis Bread Company. And it hit me. These were 19 stores in St. Louis doing volumes almost as much as we did within Au Bon Pain but doing so in suburban St. Louis. And it struck me this was an opportunity to acquire Saint Louis Bread Company. And maybe we could build it into 300, 400, 500 stores in the suburban marketplace while Au Bon Pain was our urban strategy. So in November of 1993, we bought the Saint Louis Bread Company, those 19 stores, for $23 million.

RAZ: You are looking at this thing. And you're thinking, hey, wait, we can use this as a way to get into the suburban market. What was the Saint Louis Bread Company doing that was different than Au Bon Pain? Why would it have appeal to suburban consumers more than Au Bon Pain?

SHAICH: Well, it's interesting, Guy. The Saint Louis Bread Company was in location sites that were significantly larger. And that enabled it to have, shall we say, a gathering place or chill business. Saint Louis Bread Company was generating volumes nearly as high as Au Bon Pain but doing so in real estate that cost half as much.

RAZ: Is the chill business, like, literally, like, to chill out? Is that what you mean when you say that?

SHAICH: Yeah. We call it the gathering place or chill business...

RAZ: Oh, OK.

SHAICH: ...Was called third place. But basically, it's, you know, when you don't want to go back to the office, when you want a place to read a magazine, to do your bills, to go on Wi-Fi. Where do you go?

RAZ: Yeah. It's like the Starbucks. This is the Starbucks model, right?

SHAICH: Yes, Though the difference between us and Starbucks - in Starbucks, they're tight spaces. So you generally go in with your headphones on and try to separate from everybody else. Panera, because we have the space - it's the kind of place you really do want to sit and do an interview. It's a kind of place that - for a Bible study group or a team meeting. You can fit six, eight, 10 people at a time.

RAZ: All right. So you acquire Saint Louis Bread Company. It's going to be the sort of the suburban alternative to Au Bon Pain. And you were not going to give it the name of Au Bon Pain. It was going to be Saint Louis Bread Company? Or did you initially - did you immediately realize you're going to rename this thing?

SHAICH: Well, we renamed the concept Panera Bread in all markets other than St. Louis. But we renamed it Panera Bread because as we went to new markets, people often thought St. Louis was more associated with Clydesdale horses and beer...

RAZ: Oh, wow. Yeah.

SHAICH: ...Than it was with bread.

RAZ: Right.

SHAICH: And so we wanted an empty vessel, a personality we could form. And our view was we had bought this. There's something good happening. Let's take a couple of years and study it.

RAZ: So what'd you do at that point?

SHAICH: So we went off. And I literally spent two years on the road with yellow legal pads, talking to people. And it was very clear to me. I'm always searching for what's the deeper trend. Post-World War II, fast food was special. You fast-forward to 1990 with 60,000 drive-throughs in America. Fast food had become self-service gasoline stations for the human body. And the reality of it was that there were many consumers that were holding their noses when they went into fast food. They wanted more than a lot of food cheap.

And it was very clear to us the same phenomenon was happening in bread. And you started to see the growth of specialty bread in the East Coast and the West Coast. And we began to understand that this phenomena offered a powerful opportunity. Somebody was going to dominate specialty food. And with the power of combining it with a specialty bakery, we saw the potential to do it.

RAZ: So out of curiosity, in that - by '98, you're watching Saint Louis Bread - Panera really start to grow. Do you remember how many stores you had at that point? What - did you expand beyond those original 19?

SHAICH: Yeah. By 1998, we roughly had 150 stores. And I was having one of those moments that all CEOs have of self-reflection. And frankly, I was kind of bummed.


SHAICH: I was looking at Panera Bread as one of four divisions in this multidivisional restaurant concept.

RAZ: You have Au Bon Pain.

SHAICH: I had Au Bon Pain - Au Bon Pain International. I had Panera. And I had Au Bon Pain Manufacturing. And I was with a friend. And I said, you know, for every 100 people who talk about having a nationally dominant concept, one ever makes it. To do so is so difficult. But I said this one has that potential.

And my friend looked at me and said, Ron, what would you do if Panera owned Au Bon Pain, not Au Bon Pain owns Panera? And I said, you know, I'd take all the resources that we had, put it against Panera becoming a nationally dominant brand, and I'd take myself and the very best people we had. And I'd go down there and make it happen.

RAZ: You were proposing to sell Au Bon Pain and to...

SHAICH: I was proposing...

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: ...To sell everything other than Panera.

RAZ: Except for Panera. You were saying (laughter) yes.

SHAICH: Take all the money and all the human resources and myself. And go down and make this happen.

RAZ: So basically, you were saying these - out of the four sub businesses, let's get rid of these three, take the cash and pour it into Panera because that's the place. That's the thing that has the potential.


RAZ: So you go to your board. And you say, let's do this. And your board is looking at you like you're nuts because they actually got into this business in - because of Au Bon Pain?

SHAICH: Literally, that's what happened, Guy. It was a huge boardroom struggle because I had two votes. Our venture capitalists had three. And all of them had invested in Au Bon Pain. Let's just say there were very heated discussions.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: And if I hadn't pulled this off, I probably wouldn't have stayed as CEO of Panera.

RAZ: I mean, you had - I guess, when you sold Au Bon Pain, it was like 250 stores - something like that?

SHAICH: About 250 stores. Yeah.

RAZ: And did - Panera only at 180. So you were - you really were downsizing. But you thought, we need to downsize in order to explode in growth.

SHAICH: But I wasn't downsizing. I was focusing. I could see the potential of Panera. In retrospect, it looks brilliant. The stock has been up a hundred fold since then. But going through it was horrible. I mean, those businesses - Au Bon Pain was like my first child.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: I birthed it. I grew it. I lived it. I loved it. But sometimes, you just have to march forward.


SHAICH: You have to know what matters. And Panera's what mattered. And you have to get it done. And so we lived through the sale of all three other businesses over a year and a half. And we changed the name of the public company from Au Bon Pain to Panera. And off we ran. And back then, you could've bought our stock for 3 1/2, 4 dollars a share.

RAZ: Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you call me then, Ron?

SHAICH: You know, Guy, I was telling everybody. Nobody wanted to listen then.

RAZ: Three bucks a share.

SHAICH: And ended up selling for $315 a share.

RAZ: Oh, my God.

SHAICH: The truth is nothing's proof until it's done.


RAZ: So you are taking a big risk in '99 when you sell Au Bon Pain. By 2003, Panera is doing a billion dollars in sales. Are you doing a victory lap? Are you, like, high-fiving people and saying, see, I told you?

SHAICH: Guy, I never do a victory lap.

RAZ: (Laughter).

SHAICH: The reality is - right? - the time to worry about tomorrow is today. And my job is to discover what's going to happen tomorrow. I have what's called a retailer's nightmare. I have a fear that somehow, some way, nobody's going to show up tomorrow. And then what? You know, I get up on the stage - right? - and I speak in front of 5,000 Panera people.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: And I sit there, and I think to myself as I'm speaking, my God, these people are counting on us to make the right decisions.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: Their mortgages, their kids' education, their livelihoods, their lives, their careers are counting on us to make the right decisions. So I'm continually asking myself, where are we going to be in three and five years? What do we need to do to get there? How do we make sure we don't make a mistake? How do we care for this? How do we steward it in the right way?

RAZ: What's interesting to me is that this growth was just explosive in the early 2000s. And I guess by 2009, Panera was opening, like, a new store every five days.

SHAICH: Basically, every three days.

RAZ: I mean, it's insane. It's in the middle of the worst financial crisis. How did that happen? I mean, how did the financial crisis and the collapse of the economy not affect you guys?

SHAICH: Our whole view was to make smart bets. And one of those smart bets comes from a contrarian perspective. Pre the recession - pre the Great Recession - the whole world was in a go, go kind of context. Everybody was levering up their balance sheets, putting on debt, borrowing money to buy back stock. Grow, grow, grow. At that time, we held back. Real estate costs were high. We didn't lever up. When the recession hit, as Warren Buffett put it, that's the time you make a fortune.

Our concept was still strong. People were still visiting us. We decided to invest our resources in growing even more quickly during the recession. Real estate costs were down 20 percent. Construction costs were down 20 percent. Simultaneously, most of our competitors were ripping costs out of their PNL, trying to chase their costs down as their sales were descending. It was a vicious cycle. We said this is a time to build competitive advantage. And ultimately, we tripled the stock through the recession.

RAZ: Ron, I don't want to end without asking you about Lou Kane, your longtime business partner...


RAZ: ...Because it seems like you guys had this amazing, like, very successful partnership. And I know Lou passed away in 2000, but how did you guys do that? Like, how did you - because most people - most partnerships break down. People fight. They get jealous, angry. They get resentful. Like, did you have an agreement? How were you able to work so well together?

SHAICH: Well, first off, I'll describe Lou. Lou was our version of Blake Carrington from "Dynasty." He was direct from...

RAZ: Wow.

SHAICH: ...Central Casting. And he looked the part. People loved Lou. And Lou probably was at his best in relationships and building relationships. And I was the guy who really thought deeply about the business, who ran the business and made it happen. And Lou and I's partnership worked because we understood each other. I owned, you know, six times more stock than him. But most of the community at that point undoubtedly thought the company was Lou's. I was 20 years his junior. I was the guy who, you know, worked with Lou. He was - Harvard College - a major fundraiser for Harvard. He was on the Commandant staff in the Marine Corps. And Lou was able to, through his relationships, develop the real estate. And he had the real estate, and I could turn it into something. And so we were perfect for each other. And both of us, until the day he died, took care of each other.

RAZ: That's pretty amazing. So last year, Panera sold - was acquired - sold to a German company, JAB Holding. So it's now a private company again.


RAZ: Why did you sell?

SHAICH: Real simple. Because what had allowed us to have this powerful success was this ability to make long-term, transformative, smart bets. The reality is in the public marketplaces, I was deeply worried we would not be able to continue to do that...

RAZ: When you were on Wall Street - so answering to Wall Street - you could not do that?

SHAICH: No, I - you know what? The truth is I probably could because I voted 17 percent of the stock, and I had this reputation, this credibility. The problem was, what happened if I wasn't there?

RAZ: Yeah, I see. Right.

SHAICH: And I'm 64. I'm not going to be here forever.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: How does Panera continue to do the things that it created value? There's a pervasive sense of short-termism that has invaded our markets. The reality is when you have such short-term pressure on our CEOs, they react. And what that ends up meaning is cost-cutting. And they avoid the kind of transformative events that drove the success of Panera.

Anything of value, when you have 100,000 employees as we do, and you have as many stores as we do, takes time - takes years. And so the reality is, as a CEO, as a leader, I've got to figure out where the world is going. I've got to know how the world is unfolding. And I've got to make sure my company is positioned as the world arrives there. You can't do that so easily in a public company.

RAZ: You - toward the end of 2017, you announced that you were stepping down as the CEO. Are you finally, now that you are kind of slowing down and stepped out from the day-to-day stuff, able to enjoy - I mean, you also became a rich guy. You didn't grow up that way. Are you able to enjoy some of that?

SHAICH: You know, money is freedom. And so I wouldn't be foolish and tell you I don't enjoy it.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: You know, I've often been on these panels, where I'm the token entrepreneur and - you know, at business schools and the like. And people say, oh, isn't so wonderful? Look at what you created. And they usually talk about the money.

RAZ: Yeah.

SHAICH: I tell them, look it - you don't understand. You know, if you don't like the people you work with, if you don't like the doing of the doing - the creative process of it - you're never going to get there. It's not about going to lunch at the club. It's not about the financings. And you better be clear about the entrepreneurial life. The business owns you. You don't own it. And this business was with me - it still is - every minute of my life when I'm in the shower, when I'm sleeping. That's the way you develop it. That's the way you grow it. And that's the way you run it. And if you're not willing to pay that price, you don't want to do what this is all about.

RAZ: Ron Shaich - he was CEO for 36 years before officially handing over the reins of Panera Bread in early 2018. Late in 2017, after Panera went private again and 20 years after selling Au Bon Pain to focus on building up Panera, the company actually bought back Au Bon Pain. The two brands are once again part of the same family.


RAZ: Do you - how often do you eat lunch at Panera?

SHAICH: I'm at a Panera - oh, I don't know - four or five times a week now - slowed down.

RAZ: Four or five times a week?

SHAICH: Yeah, and my kids are in another four or five times. So we still love Panera.


RAZ: And stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.


RAZ: Hey. Thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today's story comes from Tyson Walters, who lives in Los Angeles with his dog Harley.

TYSON WALTERS: My St. Bernard - she's actually 9 years old now. She was the true inspiration behind the product.

RAZ: Now, Harley, like a lot of dogs, is lovable. But also like a lot of dogs, she sheds all over the place, which initially was a big problem because Tyson wanted to take her everywhere - not just to the park but to friends' houses.

WALTERS: So there was a lot of conversations to people before I brought her over as in, you're going to vacuum once she leaves. Or even riding in cars - no one wanted to ride with me because they knew they were going to be full of hair.

RAZ: And Tyson started to take this problem very seriously.

WALTERS: I researched and researched, like, what could I do? And there was no solution. So I kind of started to create it.

RAZ: Now, this was around 2011 when Tyson just got out of college and moved back in with his parents. And they didn't want Harley shedding all over the house, either, so they thought, maybe we can design some kind of body suit for her.

WALTERS: You know, something to really get all that hair and keep it in - and something that was comfortable for the dog, too. So, you know, the first idea started from just a blanket and kind of messing around with that and trying to make some leg holes - everything from, like, more of a net garment kind of thing...

RAZ: And you can probably imagine how this all went down. Tyson and his mom worked with an old sewing machine in the living room. They tried a bunch of different designs.

WALTERS: And we finally kind of came up with - it looked - just looked like a baggy shirt that the dog wore.

RAZ: But the shirt was too baggy, and the fabric wasn't breathable enough. And so Tyson and his mom had basically hit a wall. So he went on Craigslist, and he found a professional seamstress.

WALTERS: She could see it in her head better. And then she would recommend different materials, too. So that's when she started bringing in the stretchy material, kind of like the Under Armour and Nike athletic shirts you see. That's when it finally came together.

RAZ: And what they eventually came up with was this form-fitting suit, kind of like body spanks for dogs - different colors and nine different sizes from Chihuahua to Great Dane.

WALTERS: Most dogs are actually OK with it. The fabric's so stretchy. It really doesn't hinder their movement at all. It's very lightweight. And I would double-check with vets and stuff like that, and they would all give it the OK, as well.

RAZ: But, remember, the whole point is to keep your dog's hair from winding up all over your house or your car.

WALTERS: All the hair is just contained pretty much in a suit. So you just take it off outside. You can shake it out.

RAZ: And while you're at it, you can shake off all the weird looks you're going to get from your neighbors.

WALTERS: Most people's reaction is they laugh. They laugh and say what is this?

RAZ: And you have to see this to believe me because when I looked at all the pictures of these dogs in their spanks, I almost wondered whether they were kind of embarrassed. Anyway, Tyson called his dog suit the Shed Defender. He found a manufacturer in San Francisco, and things really took off when a website called posted a piece about them.

WALTERS: It gave us a real big boost once we launched. And it's all been free advertisement.

RAZ: Tyson has sold more than 20,000 of these Shed Defenders, and his company has grossed more than a million dollars since he got it going back in 2016. And, by the way, it is not just an indoor suit. A lot of owners use the Shed Defender outside to keep their dogs clean and free of ticks. And if your dog needs to go, well, there's also a zipper.

WALTERS: So you just partially unzip it. The space is wide enough for the dog to use the restroom. And then once they come back in, you can just zip it on up.

RAZ: You can find out more about Shed Defender on our Facebook page. And, of course, if you want to tell us your story, go to We love hearing what you're up to.

And thanks for listening to our show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to Please also subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can also write us at You can tweet us, too, at @HowIBuiltThis. Our show was produced this week by Casey Herman. Ramtin Arablouei composed the music. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Thomas Lu, Nour Coudsi and Jeff Rogers.

I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.


Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.