Friday, January 24

Panera Bread to open location in Westwood Village

The new Westwood Panera Bread is under construction, and plans to open its doors as soon as May 1. (Alyssa Dorn/Daily Bruin)

The Westwood Village Specific Plan classifies restaurants into two, not three categories: fast food and sit-down. The plan limits how many of each kind of establishment there can be on each street, not each block.

Panera Bread plans to open a location in Westwood Village at the start of May, following a years-long battle to open the restaurant’s doors.

The location on Westwood Boulevard has had a “Coming Soon” sign on its storefront windows since early 2013, but has postponed its opening because of complications with a Westwood land-use plan.

The Missouri-based chain restaurant, located between Ike’s Place and Chilly Ribbons, specializes in sandwiches, soups and baked goods. After multiple emails and calls, Panera Bread could not be reached for comment for this article.

Panera signed a lease in 2012, and the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved the restaurant’s permit in May 2013, said Christopher Hameetman, who owns the building where Panera plans to open.

But because Steven Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, filed an appeal in June, Panera’s permit was revoked.

Sann said he filed the appeal because the site where Panera Bread plans to open is designated to be for full-service, sit-down restaurants, according to the Westwood Village Specific Plan. The City of Los Angeles developed the plan, which designates land use in the Village, in 1989.

To qualify as a full-service restaurant, a business must offer sit-down table service with waiters, prepare and cook food to order and serve it on china and have patrons pay at the end of their meals.

Because Panera Bread customers typically order food at a separate counter and pay for it before they receive it, the restaurant did not meet the plan’s criteria, Sann said.

The Westwood Village Specific Plan classifies restaurants into two categories, “fast food” and “sit-down,” and places a limit on how many establishments of each category there can be on a street. While some of the plan’s backers say it aims to improve Westwood’s food selection, some business owners have said they think local interest groups use the plan as a tool to limit their ability to open and run restaurants in the area.

Hameetman said he is not sure how Panera has specifically adapted to meet the plan’s standards.

Some of Panera’s fans said they are elated that it is finally opening.

“I love Panera. Their sandwiches are amazing and I think it’s great that it’s coming to Westwood to serve UCLA,” said Joslyn Garcia, a first-year mechanical engineering student. “Their breads and sweets are really good.”

Shukri Mohamed, a first-year political science student, said she has never been to a Panera before, and she is excited to try it for the first time.

“It seems like a nice place to eat, and I’d like to try their bread bowls,” she said.

The delay, however, has muffled some of the initial excitement of Panera’s opening for some students.

Baylin Dickinson, a fourth-year sociology student, said she is not as excited about Panera Bread opening up as she was last year because other establishments have provided similar food.

Panera plans to move into a neighborhood with some similar businesses, such as Noah’s Bagels and Corner Bakery Cafe.

Noah’s has a location a block away from the future Panera Bread location and Corner Bakery has a location two blocks north. Neither Noah’s nor Corner Bakery representatives commented for this story.

Some students think Panera’s distance from campus is a big drawback, especially when there are some other establishments that offer similar food.

“I’m not too excited about Panera opening up because there are so many other options in Westwood that are closer to campus. But if Panera opened up on campus, I would definitely visit,” said Ani Khrimyan, a fourth-year sociology student.

The new Panera will be about 4,400 square feet and will be able to seat about 110 patrons with room for another 40 people standing and waiting to be seated or to order take-out, Hameetman said.

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  • Guest of a Guest

    Steve Sann strikes again! Seriously, there are no sit-down restaurants on that block (other than Native Foods, but even that place has a similar set-up like Panera: order, sit down and wait for your food). Open Oven, Ikes, Mesa, Iso Fusion, and Headlines are all the same set-up. Even Ono Hawaiian which was there before was NOT a sit-down restaurant.

    What a scam move by the WNC to block a legitimate business which wants to spend the money to open an establishment. No wonder business owners look over The Village! Who wants to deal not only with the normal city procedures, but also have the WNC blocking and “reviewing” your every move in their self-interests.It’s not worth it. What a power trip and senseless block of legitimate investment in this community!

    • Mister Real

      Steve Sann is on the Westwood Community Council (WCC), NOT Westwood Neighborhood Council (WNC). Steven Sann’s group is not certified by the city of los angeles and they are not an official advisory board to city council and city hall.

      • Guest of a Guest

        Thanks for the clarification. With all these layers of overlapping bureaucracy and oversight, it can be easy to mix them all up.

    • Just My Opinion…

      Totally agree — if only more people could see Satan for what he really is. This worst thing to happen to Westwood Village since New Jack City! []

  • Hooraj

    It isn’t secret knowledge that Westwood has limits on what type of restaurants can open in order to try to force a wider range of dining options. The landlords all know it and the restaurants coming in better know it. You may disagree with this tactic, but it’s an open fact and the limits on counter service restaurants have already been increased over what they were originally supposed to be. The reasoning is to provide a wider variety of options and a more interesting destination.

    It’s debatable whether or not this is a positive for the Village (many things are obviously broken), but the rules are very clear and landlords keep trying to push the boundaries on them because these types of restaurants appeal to the main users of the Village. It becomes a chicken or the egg problem of if these places make the Village into a place that dies after lunch or if these places are the only ones that can thrive because the Village dies after lunch.

    Sann is just enforcing rules on the books and these are big print rules, not small print hidden away. Landlords are frustrated by the overall lack of success of the Village and these types of restaurants can bring in the money they want to be making – they’re the easy solution to their problem, so they obviously want no limits on them. The Westwood Plan is supposed to stop the landlords from going after the easy money in order to provide a better mix for locals and visitors (these are by no means new regulations).

    The reality is the mess you can witness everyday.

    • Just My Opinion…

      Well, this article gets it wrong. The reporter says that the Westwood Plan (follow the link in the artilce) “classifies restaurants into THREE categories: “fast food,” “fast casual” and “restaurant.” NOPE! Nowhere does it say “fast casual.” And that is the point. There WAS NO FAST CASUAL 25+ years ago. And Satan is using these old rules to punish new businesses which NO ONE in the Village would object to, or classify as Fast Food. Satan hides behind the outdated words of the Plan to justify his harmful actions. And his actions have damaged Westwood Village terribly, and he should be ashamed.

      • Hooraj

        Look at the December 31, 2002 note that defines restaurants vs. fast food establishments. The point is to get a mixture of places where you are served at table vs. where you order at the counter. This is to try to force a variety of venues on Westwood so property owners provide a mix. Most areas do this with the thought that a proper mix maintains a healthier business climate in the long run. This is what Sann is making sure is enforced. Westwood has already exceeded their initial quotas. That means the landlords argued and got additions in the past and want those changes to stick, if not increase, when they want a new place to come in. Whether you agree or not with the rule is for you to decide and contact your local representative to change.

  • Hooraj

    Every landlord knows the deal with the Westwood Plan and they know that while certain businesses may be great, they are not allowed since the neighborhood decided to regulate how many counter service restaurants can come in so that not every storefront turns into a counter service restaurant. What landlords have then turned around to do is try to expand the initial quotas, sometimes taking on tenants that won’t be allowed to operate and then trying to force them through. The quality of the businesses isn’t the problem, it’s the quantity of one specific type of business.

    I’m glad there’s some system in place to make sure everything isn’t a lunch place (Westwood must be the sandwich and pizza capital of America) and appreciate cities that try to make sure they maintain their uniqueness. The landlords know the deal and take on clients that will knowingly face issues.

    Sann has as much power as you or I – he can’t give anywhere special preference, since if you see an issue he’s ignoring, you can bring it up. Some of those rules may be outdated (local and state wide), but turning the area into all lunch places will not create a thriving business district (see the York plan). That Sann is out there enforcing clearly stated rules doesn’t stop businesses from coming in, some specific businesses are already not allowed due to quotas and everyone knows it (though the rules do prevent certain innovations city wide) – it comes down to businesses and landlords not agreeing on the value of the area for a variety of reasons.

    • Just My Opinion…

      You are suggesting the food use quotas still have relevance, or that they are somehow “good.” Although your words sound reasonable, as you are probably a reasonable person, the real impact of the Plan is shown by the Vacancy plaguing the streets of Westwood. The Plan was written when Westwood was the movie capitol of Los Angeles. Before the Grove, 3rd Street or Westfield Century City. Now many of the theaters are gone, the shops are gone and everything but lunch-time patronage is (mostly) gone. Restaurants & Food Uses want to be in the Village because that is what the people who come to Westwood want. It is just that simple. Economics 101. Perhaps it is time to make Westwood the dining capital of West LA, and when the 24/7 people return, retail and other uses should follow. However, as the past few decades have shown, what we have now doesn’t work. As Albert Einstein so famously said, the definition of crazy is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

      • Hooraj

        The problem is Panera, Tender Greens and other lunch places aren’t going to make Westwood the food capital of LA – those places serve the people already here and no one is going to fight traffic to come to Westwood instead of going to the one already near them. Serving the people here is great (I’m one of them), but if you can name an area that boomed due to a plethora of chain lunch options, I’d love to hear it. And if people aren’t coming in, then you just get the endless opening and closing of places that exists now as they fight over the same pie.

        The rules exist to try to prevent this and incentivize the longterm health of the area. Sure, it isn’t working very well now, but it appears the area is in a financial doldrums of neither landlords nor businesses willing to meet each other’s valuation. That has been playing out for ages for a variety of reasons. Bringing in all the “fast casual” as the landlords want will help them make some money, but at what point do we as a community want to ask for certain things for the contributions we make to the area. Is it fair to ask for a mix of uses? What do you want your neighborhood to look like and what is fair for everyone involved? Why not just let them tear everything down and build condos if property owner’s financials are the biggest interest – they’d love to do it?

        The problem isn’t that it’s Panera or Tender Greens, it’s that we as a community have stated that we only want a certain amount of those types of stores and we’ve already overbooked. Want to change it – have at it (and make sure to buy lots of aspirin, Westwood is a headache inducing wreck of competing interests)

  • Chris Westwood

    Edward, please note that this part of your article is factually incorrect: [The Westwood Village Specific Plan classifies restaurants into three categories: “fast food,” “fast casual” and “restaurant,” and places a limit on how many establishments of each category there can be on a block. ] There is no “Fast Casual” in the Specific Plan, which is one good example of why the Specific Plan is so outdated. Few (if any) would consider Panera “Fast Food” — but due to the extraordinarily restrictive definition of “Restaurant” — almost every modern dining establishment will be characterized as “Fast Food.” If the Specific Plan simply used the City of Los Angeles’ definition of Fast Food, the Village would be much better off and present a far less hostile business environment for those who want to fill our many vacancies.

    • Guest of a Guest

      Yes, it’s time the Village adopt new definitions. The last update to the restaurant categories in 2002 is eons in this current economy. People who are dining out are flocking to places like Chipotle, Panera, and Tender Greens. It’s not just the “lunch crowd” during the weekday, but the overall trend for the market with fast casual increasing while actual fast food (i.e., McDonalds) losing market share. The neighborhood groups are delusional to think that a “sit down” restaurant would want to open, or do well, in the specific space that Panera is opening. “Restaurants” like Tanino, Napa Valley Grill, Skylight Gardens and Palomino have limited customer bases and to be honest Westwood doesn’t have that cache as dining capital in LA. Those exact restaurants are serving the business/power lunches for the nearby areas. Which also happen to be falling out of favor in the business world.

  • Dave E

    Agree with most of you who have posted comments. Anyone who wants to see the revival of Westwood should welcome high quality fast casual dining restaurants like Panera, Chipotle and Tender Greens. In contrast, full service restaurants, especially the white tablecloth establishments and delis envisioned by the Westwood Village Specific Plan, disproportionately caters to the older generation who do not eat out as often.

    Westwood needs these quality fast casual restaurants to cater to the younger and middle aged generations who have the spending power to support jobs and ancillary retail businesses in Westwood. Such a shame to see people like Steve Sann trying to enforce outdated rules to the detriment of this community.