The bakery-café takes over the former Clarmont in the Brewery District.
Panera officially opened Tuesday in the Brewery District, replacing an icon in the local restaurant world and restoring a lost breakfast option in the area.
The bakery-cafe has taken over the Clarmont building, 684 S. High St.
Some local observers are nostalgic for the days of the Clarmont, an old-school full-service restaurant that was in business for 65 years until closing in 2012.
It was the place for downtown political, legal and business cognoscenti, who would discuss the weighty issues of the day over morning repasts.
"It will be interesting to see if the old crowd returns," said Bill Curlis, a German Village resident and Republican consultant. "Panera does not do table service, so I'm not certain it will have the same draw and atmosphere as the old Clarmont. The wait staff was part of the charm."
Michael Elmer, a partner in Via Vecchia Winery just down the street, said he likes how company officials kept the basic structure of the historic building's facade, updated with a few recognizable flourishes, and reused the Clarmont's front sign locations, now displaying Panera's signature lettering.
Central Ohio's latest Panera is owned by franchisee Covelli Enterprises, a Youngstown-based operator with 250 units in five states and Canada.
"We know there's a rich history in that neighborhood and the Clarmont in general," said Liz Forino, spokeswoman for Covelli.
She said the 5,200-square-foot space seats 92, with an additional 35 on the patio, which will open this spring.
Forino said there is free Wi-Fi but no formal community room. There is, however, a "bump out" area available on a first come, first served basis.
Marie Trudeau, chairwoman of the German Village Business Community, said a vacancy on the main drag isn't good for the neighborhood, from either a functional or aesthetic standpoint.
"I like Panera more than a whole lot of other things." Trudeau said. "It's a chain as opposed to a neighborhood restaurant. I guess something local would have been nicer, but we didn't get that. It's an awfully big space."
There are some obvious notable differences between the two restaurants -- pricing, service style and alcohol -- but also ambience, said retail analyst Chris Boring, who runs Boulevard Strategies.
He calls it a "third place" option, somewhere people go when they're not at home or the office, a quiet place to plug into the free Wi-Fi, drink some coffee and chat with friends.
And there's not a lot of competition in the immediate area for the breakfast dollar, with First Watch and Dempsey's being the most notable morning-meal options, he said.
"It's something different for that neighborhood," Boring said. "You have a lot of pricier restaurants in German Village.
"This is a place to go and get a good sandwich and not have to pay an arm and a leg."