No matter where you look across the country, in places like Phoenix, Arizona, or Wichita, Kansas, the bakery cafe sector is building steadily in number. Consumers are embracing the café concept with open arms because of the sweet and savory selections, as well as the innovative dining options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Known for its chunky cinnamon French toast, Kneaders Bakery & Café, a 60-unit chain based in Orem, Utah, has expanded its menu to include sandwiches, soups, salads and dozens of handmade pastries, including such new creations as lemon kolache muffin tops and coconut citrus scones.

Corner Bakery Café’s new protein-packed egg bowls or egg and cheese panini bring together hearty ingredients like pecan wood smoked ham, avocado, baby spinach, tomato and pesto. Guests can also enjoy new Cake Truffle Bites, available in lemon, salted caramel pecan and carrot cake.

“We are always looking for new ways to bring our guests fresh and innovative dishes,” says Corner Bakery’s chief marketing officer, Donna Josephson. “We are excited to introduce our guests to these fresh and flavorful new dishes.”

Kneaders Bakery & Café has expanded its menu with new creations such as lemon kolache muffin tops and coconut citrus scones.

Independents are making their mark on the sector, as well. In Phoenix, Essence Bakery Café, established by Eugenia Theodosopoulos and Gilles Combes, who met and married in Paris, offers a touch of elegance in a casual dining experience. Chef Eugenia starts by selecting fresh ingredients for organic dishes, pastries and desserts. Breakfast sandwiches are served on brioche rolls. Unique and familiar flavors mingle in new ways and delight the palate, including fresh avocado slices and toasted hazelnuts. Essence Bakery was a “Best of Phoenix” award winner in 2018.

In Memphis, Tennessee, City Silo Table + Pantry has achieved immediate acclaim as one of the city’s best bakery cafes. Owners Rebekah and Scott Tashie grew up in the South and are dedicated to storied hospitality. They call their menu “conscious comfort” food.

The menu features such dishes as the “Sunshine Burrito,” flavored with seasoned sweet potato and red quinoa, and the “Memphis Chick,” including creative ingredients like arugula, pico de gallo, cashew ranch, and Charlie’s Select Rendezvous barbecue sauce.

“We believe there is a happy medium between eating trendy healthy food that doesn’t fill you up and heavy Southern, nap-inducing meals,” Tashie says.

The clean label way

Earlier this year, Panera added new healthy on-the-go options to its menu in the form of breakfast wraps served on whole grain tortillas.

Panera Bread’s new 100% clean breakfast options are seamlessly integrated with Panera’s digital ordering platforms and Rapid Pick-Up and Delivery services, providing both craveable breakfast foods and convenience for morning commuters.

“Our focus on breakfast isn’t just about a single item or category—it’s about looking at the market and bridging a gap for guests. People are compromising between convenience and quality in the morning, and we know that’s a problem Panera can help solve,” says Blaine Hurst, Panera’s CEO. “Craveable, clean, high-quality menu options made easily accessible by digital and channel access is what has propelled our lunch business forward. Now we are taking that powerful combination to breakfast, giving our guest even more of what they want, when and where they want it.”

Earlier this year, Panera launched three new breakfast wraps, representing an entirely new category for Panera, designed to provide consumers with wholesome options ideal for on-the-go occasions. The new breakfast category includes maple glazed bacon with scrambled egg and gouda cheese, chipotle chicken with scrambled egg, avocado and peppadew peppers, and the vegetarian Mediterranean with scrambled egg white, roasted tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese.

All breakfast food and new coffee offerings are 100% clean, with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources as defined by Panera’s “No No List.”

Panera made a significant investment to upgrade its coffee by revamping and expanding its offerings to meet the quality of its food and introducing new standards for brewing. Panera is conducting a market test on a new “Panera Tap” technology for hot coffee, where guests can skip the register or kiosk altogether. Guests in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, only need to open the Panera app and tap an NFC smart poster to purchase a grab-and-go coffee via mobile payment.

Panera has also revamped its bakery line this year, offering 10 new bakery items such as cheese and cherry Brittanys, almond and chocolate croissants, blueberry and orange scones, cocoa and creme cookies, and vanilla cinnamon rolls.

“We’ve long set the standard for an elevated morning experience from bagels to brioche breakfast sandwiches and craft bakery. But we recognize our guest is looking for new breakfast offerings for their busy lives,” says Sara Burnett, Panera’s vice president of wellness and food policy. “By offering handcrafted breakfast options made with our real, fresh pantry ingredients and pairing them with coffee that matches the quality of the food in our cafes, our customers can get all their breakfast needs under one roof at their own pace.”

Charting new territories

In 2017, Great Harvest Bread introduced a “hub-and-spoke” franchise model, which allowed for rapid expansion across the U.S.

Earlier this year, Great Harvest Bread Co. signed five franchise agreements with new and existing franchisees that will bring the bakery cafe concept to Grand Junction, Colorado; Dallas; Long Island, New York; Tulsa and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; and Red Bank and Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Founded in 1976, Great Harvest operates nearly 200 locations across the United States, all of which offer breakfast, sandwiches, grain bowls, soups, salads, pastries, and desserts. In 2017, the company introduced a “hub-and-spoke” franchise model, which allowed for rapid expansion across the United States.

Under the hub-and-spoke franchise model, franchisees may purchase a large territory that includes a single Great Harvest Bakery operation and as many cafe-only units as they want in surrounding towns. The bakery locations are equipped with ovens and ample space to produce and deliver the hand-milled bread to the nearby cafe-only locations throughout the day.

Great Harvest says the hub-and-spoke model allows its franchise owners to own multiple locations under one agreement, while competing against segment rivals in all territories.

“We’re continuing to see franchise owners seek out the hub-and-spoke model, as it is the most efficient way to out-bake and out-localize the competition in high-traffic areas with as little as 1,500 square feet,” says Mike Ferretti, chairman and chief executive officer of Great Harvest Bread. “Additionally, with new Great Harvest locations, each owner is able to make it their own with our freedom franchise, which lets franchisees choose their own design, décor, menu selection and localize their marketing efforts.”