Over the years, I’ve devoted at least a column or 10 to protesting the hilariously high prices at Panera. And, yes, since you ask, it was an exceedingly slow news week when this happened; What’s your point? These periodic rants, it should be noted, came long before certain late-night comedians said unspeakably mean things about fast food places. Jon Stewart, before he retired and became a shepherd or whatever, constantly bashed Arby’s. Then again, it’s low-hanging dollar buffalo sliders when a chain brands itself as “We Have the Meats.” Blech.
With Panera & me, it was never about the food, which is perfectly…OK. No, it was all about the inflated prices which are, as we say in the South, crazy as a soup sandwich. See what I did there?
How crazy? Well, if you haven’t been to Panera, where the food is…fine, it can come as a shock when you realize it’s either the soup/sandwich combo with a drink and a big cookie OR the eyelid lift you’ve been saving up for because when you get older your eyelids inexplicably start to droop and you only see the bottom-third of everything in front of you. Or so I’ve been told.
Nuff said; Panera is thriving so they’re clearly doing something very much right, my occasional snarky commentary notwithstanding. I might question soup with a markup so obscene it should come with a TV-MA rating but that’s just me. Also, what’s with the expectation you will make sure you place your used cutlery in the right bin while minding the planet and segregating your recyclables vs. your trash? It is exhausting! But to each her own. At Panera, the hibiscus iced tea is reason enough to…OK, no it’s not.
But just when I thought Panera couldn’t do anything crazier than expect me to bus my table after paying roughly $435 for a chicken salad sandwich, tiny salad and water with lemon, I was so wrong. Because, this month, Panera has introduced a line of soup-themed… swimwear.
It’s less “themed” than hitting you between the eyes with a two-day-old loaf of their famous sourdough because the ladies’ one piece says in very large letters: “SOUP” and comes in “Panera green” which, appropriately, is the color of money. (To be honest, I’m more of a “Grimace purple” fan myself. Say what you will: McDonald’s doesn’t gouge.)
The cleverly named “Swim-Soup Collection” features styles for ladies and gents with swim trunks featuring the “mother bread” logo referencing the chain’s famous 30-year-old sourdough starter which is used in every loaf. Nothing gets me fired up about treating myself to lunch like envisioning a sandwich made from bread that was born the year Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. How ‘bout y’all?
In case you’re asking yourself “but why?” you should know the Swim-Soup idea was the result of research that revealed a whopping 70 percent of Panera customers continue to order and enjoy soup even in extremely hot weather. I think a 70 percent off coupon would’ve been nicer. I crack myself up.
Food & Wine magazine noted the “Broc-Ched” swimsuit for women and coordinating trunks for men share “the same all over cheddar topped broccoli print.” Oddly, the suits are only $25 with free shipping which is technically less than anyone has ever spent on lunch at Panera. Yes. It is.
For just $20 you can get an inflatable bread-bowl float to go with your Swim-Soup, which F&W reports is “probably the closest you’ll get to knowing how it feels to be a serving of Summer Corn Chowder.”
Which just goes to show no “Food & Wine” reporters have ever lived in the American South where we feel like that all summer long—hot, lumpy but surprisingly sweet. Most of the time.