Groupon and four other firms thrived in recession. Their secret?

2. Panera

Panera Bread/PRNewsFoto/File
Panera served up a pink ribbon bagel in this 2007 file photo. During and after the recession, the St. Louis-based chain has added 191 bakery-cafés to take advantage of low real estate prices.

Eating out was one of the first indulgences to go for many Americans forced to make cutbacks, and so, the restaurant industry suffered during the recession. Even inexpensive quick-service restaurants saw customer visits decrease throughout 2009 and into 2010, reports market research firm The NPD Group. But not at Panera Bread.

In the year following the fall 2008 stock market collapse, the share price of the St. Louis-based bakery-café chain was up 26 percent. Why? Because the company was growing while others were shrinking. In the last three years, Panera took advantage of low real-estate prices and construction costs to open 191 locations for a total of 1,421 company-owned, franchise-operated units in 40 states and in Ontario, Canada.

“The best time to grow is in a recession,” Panera’s executive chairman and founder, Ronald Shaich, told Bloomberg Businessweek last month. “The worst time to grow is in the boom days.”

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