New York (CNN Business)Ampex Brands — a franchisee that owns more than 400 Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's and 7-Eleven locations — is buying Au Bon Pain.
Panera, which purchased Au Bon Pain in 2017, will sell all 171 of Au Bon Pain's locations and will allow Ampex to franchise 131 additional locations. The deal was finalized Tuesday, but the companies did not disclose terms.
Au Bon Pain's new owner said the acquisition is a sign that the fast-casual-breakfast restaurant business is rebounding as America emerges from a devastating pandemic. Millions of commuters have been working at home, forgoing bakeries on their way to the office. Instead, many people had been eating breakfast at home.
But that could soon change as a growing number of people get vaccinated and kids return to school.
"The bakery café category will rebound, and Au Bon Pain is well-positioned to grow," Ampex CEO Tabbassum Mumtaz said in a press release.
Even before the pandemic, fast-casual dining locations struggled to bring in customers, and this news comes as casual dining chains — known for table service, dining rooms and long menus — attempt to make a post-pandemic comeback.
"The US is reopening, and our markets are coming back to life," Ericka Garza, Au Bon Pain's brand president, said. She added that the company sees opportunity in its "nontraditional locations" including airports, universities and hospitals. "Smaller footprints with less dine-in seating are the future of fast-casual dining," Garza said.
Acquiring Au Bon Pain marks the first time Ampex Brands will take on the role of the franchisor, rather than the franchisee. The company will initially focus on Au Bon Pain's existing locations in its key markets in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, according to a statement. If the plan succeeds and the existing cafés are reopened and performing well, Ampex plans on expanding its efforts, beginning with the corporate-owned locations.
This marks the second time Panera has sold Au Bon Pain. Well, kind of. Au Bon Pain bought Panera's predecessor, St. Louis Bread Co., in 1993. That company sold off the Au Bon Pain unit in 1999. Then the same company, which renamed itself Panera Bread, reacquired Au Bon Pain in 2017, converting many of the bakeries to Panera locations.