Mike Young

All in the Family: Early Panera Franchisee Adds Freddy’s

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As one of the first franchisees of Panera Bread Co., Mike Young still recalls the kitchen table conversation he had with his father-in-law more than 20 years ago. That talk ultimately led him to invest in a small, bread-focused restaurant chain–and a life-changing career decision.

“I would love to say I discovered Saint Louis Bread Company, which became Panera Bread, all on my own, and that I had this incredible business acumen,” says Young, operating partner of the 22-unit Panera Bread of Iowa. “It was my father-in-law who said, using his words, ‘I think this dog can hunt. Do you want to get in on it?’ The best decision I ever made was saying ‘Yes.'”

After opening their first Saint Louis Bread Company in May 1997, the chain, acquired earlier by Ron Shaich’s Au Bon Pain Co., would a year later be renamed Panera Bread Co., a move that repositioned the brand to become the fast-casual cafe empire it is today.

Young, whose only previous brush with the food industry was working the concession stand every summer in high school for a minor league baseball team in Cedar Rapids, was a quick study and no stranger to hard work. Later, armed with an accounting degree from the University of Iowa, he worked in finance for several companies before joining his father to help grow a security guard business he’d founded.

Read more: Franchising.com