Restaurant-bakery to rejuvenate Clarmont site

News of Panera greeted warmly by neighbors


News that Panera Bread will open in the former Clarmont restaurant site on South High Street has drawn a mostly positive response from residents of the German Village area.

Warren-based Covelli Enterprises, the nation's largest franchisee of Panera, is moving forward with plans to convert the 5,224-square-foot space into the fast-casual restaurant concept that is Panera's brand.

Property records show Dacoh Holdings LLC, doing business as Panera, purchased the Clarmont property for $1.1 million in January.

Last week, the company submitted official site and building plans with the city of Columbus.

Brad Kitchen, a member of the Brewery District Business Association, said he sees Panera as a good fit with the neighborhood: a pleasant, relaxing environment with reasonably priced food and coffee.

"I think we're always happy to see any new business started and take a hold of and embrace the Brewery District for what it is," Kitchen said.

The Clarmont, 684 S. High St., closed in January 2012 after 65 years in business.

A classic steakhouse and seafood restaurant with a strong retro vibe, the Clarmont was a popular destination for central Ohio powerbrokers.

"With the closing of the Clarmont, all of the political mongering dispersed elsewhere," said Bill Curlis, a Republican strategist and frequent customer.

"Let's hope it returns to Panera for breakfast and political gossiping."

When the Clarmont closed, it took with it a breakfast spot in the area.

Matt Eshelbrenner, a founding member of Southside STAY, a group committed to improving education options in the neighborhood, likes the large, open layout of Panera.

"The space is really bigger than all the other local places and, I think, fosters that social environment," Eshelbrenner said.

Ed Elberfeld, board president of German Village Connections, an aging-in-place program still in development, said he's looking forward to the change.

"We very much enjoyed the 'meat-era' of the Clarmont, with the massive steaks and enormous baked potatoes roofed in sour cream," Elberfeld said.

"But this is the new era of cups of fat-free soup and tasty salads," he said.

"We'll just have to slip by the pastry case."

Jordanne Renner, chairwoman of the local Go Green committee, wasn't as charitable as some of her peers.

"It's such an upset that a Panera is going into the Clarmont, which had this old Vegas vibe to it," Renner said.

According to documents filed with the city, Covelli intends to restore and reuse the Clarmont sign in addition to prominent Panera signage along South High.

The company also plans to build a patio along the north side of the structure.

Covelli will install additional windows in the building and spruce up the landscaping.

An existing outbuilding on Pearl Street has been demolished to allow "better function of delivery and trash pickup."

In December 2010, Covelli entered the central Ohio market by purchasing the Columbus assets -- totaling 19 restaurants at the time -- from Breads of the World, which still exists as a Panera franchisee.

Covelli has more than 160 bakery-cafes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia and Florida.