Au Bon Pain plans to expand its presence in Manhattan with smaller stores in the next two years, according to Bill Miller, the company’s new vice president for real estate in New York.
The chain is looking for spaces in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, primarily in vertical density locations in lobbies of Midtown office buildings. Au Bon Pain is searching for smaller footprints as it has made changes to its store design to increase efficiency. The company currently has about 20 locations in the New York City area, and plans to open new stores.
“Fortunately for us we have a lot of design flexibility,” Miller said. “Unlike other retailers, we can make spaces work for us.”
In a change from the past, Au Bon Pain will increasingly not bake on-site at new or existing locations.
“We really have more of a grab-and-go concept,” he said. “We’re finding that the seating area is not all that essential, especially in a transient market like Manhattan.” Au Bon Pain launched a new prototype of its stores in New York City earlier this summer, he said, with a redesign and new signage emphasizing Au Bon Pain as a café-bakery.
“From some of the landlords and some of the community we were viewed as a tired brand, but we’ve changed that,” Miller said, with the renovations of several existing stores. “My hiring is a key indicator of our desire to grow.”
Miller, who started in his new position in July, said that the company is also looking for opportunities to partner with hospitals, transportation centers and universities to open locations there.
Au Bon Pain already has a presence in the World Financial Center and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and hopes to get a space in the new World Trade Center.
Northwest Atlantic is Au Bon Pain’s exclusive broker in Manhattan, Miller said, adding that the company has been working with Chase Welles and Jacqueline Klinger, who are both vice presidents of the company.
Miller called the marketplace for Au Bon Pain “very competitive” thanks to eateries like Pret A Manger and the beverage chains that sell food, like Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
In addition, Au Bon Pain faces a tough real estate climate.
“Banks are still getting in our way. We find ourselves competing against cell phone companies,” he said.