Yesterday Allison, Eva and I had the privilege to gather with 9 other bloggers and their kids at Panera Bread in Newton Center. My friend Mommy Niri organized the event herself and invited a small group of bloggers (the facility could only accommodate a limited number and we still were too many for the space.) and their kids. We arrived a little early. and Eva took right to Valerie Sodano’s (Local Marketing Manager for Panera Bread) daughter. Eva stuck like glue to this friendly girl throughout the morning. They colored together, they made cookies together and Eva even stole chips off my plate to share with her. Eva was so sad when she had to leave.
The morning started off with everyone gathering at the Panera Bread in Newton Center. This is probably one of the nicer Paneras that I have ever been in. There was the area up front where you could buy breads and pastries and more. You could also order off their menu some of their signature sandwiches, soups and salads. Then the space extended to a beautifully decorated and inviting area where we gathered for this private event. And when the weather gets even nicer there is an outdoor patio area for people to eat.
I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest Panera fan in the past. I’m a real meat and potatoes sort of guy. I am willing to try different things but at my core I love a good cheeseburger for lunch so Panera wasn’t always on my radar for lunches. I only thought of Panera as a place where we’d get bagels on Friday for work. This trip really opened my eyes to what more Panera had to offer.
Our hosts for the day were Valerie Sodano (Local Marketing Manager), Dean Roberts (District Manager – Boston), Mary (General Manager) and Sheryl one of the (Baker Managers). They were so nice to everyone and shared great information and answered many questions. I didn’t get a card from everyone. I’m so bad about cards, I completely forgot mine too, luckily Allison had some of our Barefoot Books ones.
Our hosts brought out many types of breads for us to sample including Sourdough, Asiago Cheese bread and Baguettes (which we would later make ourselves). They also paired the breads with some dipping oils and cheeses and also a hummus with garlic dip. I loved the very first one that we tried and I went back up and sampled more, and then more and then more. It was so tasty and I hardly ever eat bread anymore.
We learned that all of the breads are made with no preservatives. They have something called Operation Dough-Nation where at the end of the day all the unsold breads are donated to charities. I don’t want to get it wrong but you can check it out at panerabread.com/donations. The charity must come and pick up the donation each day. I had never heard about this program and think it is a wonderful thing that Panera Bread is doing for communities.
We also learned about the bakers from Sheryl. She was very knowledgeable of the operation and she made it very interesting and entertaining for us. She even brought out some of the breaking bread. This is a baguette that has been scored a specific way for easy breaking to make the sandwiches. she explained to us how the breads get specific marks on them like a “cat’s eye” and “Fish gills”. These are special marks that are scored into the bread before it is cooked to give it a distinct look. We would later try out hand at making our own symbols in our breads.
After we learned all about what Panera does and how they have their dough made fresh and delivered to each bakery and how the pastries and soups and everything are made specifically for Panera it was time to wash our hands.
We all washed up and then headed to the kitchen where the team had assembled about a half dozen or so large bread paddles with little cups of rice flour. The kids and parents were encouraged to spread a fine layer of the rice flour on the bread paddle. Then we learned how a baguette was made by gently stretching out the dough in a nice even shape. Then it was scored across the top with a very sharp knife (adults only, got those) to make the special patterns on the tops.
Eva listened very attentively to Sheryl and was excited to work on her baguette. We received four pieces of dough between each bread paddle. Allison, Eva and I shared one so we ended up making 4 baguettes to take home. Eva was very happy with her X marks on her baguette. I tried to be creative and write out BenSpark but it was hard with the knife and I didn’t want to tear the bread. I ended up slashing it here and there so my actual design wasn’t so great, but I made a really long thin and well shaped baguette. I must have done well because Sheryl asked me if I would be interested in doing some baking.
After our baking adventure we returned to the back room and there were some easter egg cookies for the kids to decorate. This was one of the most entertaining things for me to watch because you give kids cookies and frosting and M&Ms and sugar it is going to get crazy quick. The kids were great and made some wonderful creations. One little boy was there with his mom and he was so thoughtful that he made and decorated cookies for his brothers. I thought that was really sweet. Eva made cookies to share with me and Allison, which was also sweet. The Easter Egg cookies are part of a campaign for raising funds for Children’s Hospital Boston. Ten cents from each cookie goes to that hospital.
After that we were treated to Lunch at Panera. We could order whatever we wanted so I had the new Steak and White Cheddar Panini with a creamy Tomato Soup. Allison had a bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich and Eva had grilled cheese. Eva invited Valerie’s daughter over to eat with us ad shared my potato chips with her. She was so smitten with the girl and we thank her for spending time with Eva. The kids were so sweet together.
After we left the event Allison was commenting on how well everything went and how wonderful Panera was to the bloggers assembled. They had shared with us a magnificent spread of breads and pairings that we could easily do in our own homes. They had great activities for the kids including some coloring books and Chef’s hats and aprons. I forgot to mention that Eva immediately wanted to wear one and she wore it all morning. We were all blown away with the hospitality and will be thinking of Panera bread the next time we have friends over to break bread with us. Thank you.
I don’t have the full list of bloggers in attendance or I would have linked to everyone. I will try and link to everyone else’s posts. I think we all had a wonderful time, I know I did. I posted my album of photos on Facebook for everyone to see what a fun time we had.
Disclosure: This was a private event that was organized by my friend Mommy Niri. We were not asked to write about the event one way or another. Since I share what happens in my daily life it is only natural that I would blog about our fun time at the event. We were given lunch, some cookies and everything else I outlined above. The opinions shared about our time are 100% ours.
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