BAKERY CAFE FORMAT RISES WITH 41 UNITS IN NORTHWEST, NORTHEAST

SEATTLE (FNS) -- As the popularity of fresh artisan breads rises like the dough it is made of, one operation has seized a slice of the business by creating a chain of bakery cafes under the trading name of Zi Pani, here.The company recently opened 41 of the gourmet cafe formats. Of this number, 19 units are in Western Washington, with the balance of the units situated in the Baltimore and Washington,

SEATTLE (FNS) -- As the popularity of fresh artisan breads rises like the dough it is made of, one operation has seized a slice of the business by creating a chain of bakery cafes under the trading name of Zi Pani, here.

The company recently opened 41 of the gourmet cafe formats. Of this number, 19 units are in Western Washington, with the balance of the units situated in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area. The menu in these units revolves around fresh-baked goods, giving customers the convenience of a neighborhood bakery with expanded food offerings usually found in cafes.

"The marketplace has changed dramatically in the past few years and we saw an opportunity for a new restaurant concept," said Jay Wagnon, president. "While customers today want quick service, they're also looking for more choices and a high-quality dining experience."

Zi Pani units were, until the conversion, part of the Bruegger's Bagel group. Wagnon, who was a Bruegger's franchisee, found it difficult to grow the business under the Bruegger's banner due, in part, to the chain's highly-targeted marketing strategy. As a result, Wagnon and his partners negotiated a release from their franchisee agreements last spring.

"There is a bit of a fad element to simple bagels, [and] we needed to move beyond that as a menu option," said Wagnon.

The overall Seattle marketing area has seen franchisee difficulties within the last few weeks. Boston Markets throughout the region were shuttered when the Colorado-based parent could not provide financing to its master franchisee. Despite this failing, Wagnon is positive about the Zi Pani concept.

"It is really a separate style of business," he told SN. "We focus on breakfast and lunch with an express pickup-and-go sandwich menu for lunch, fresh baked rolls and bread. We also plan no rapid expansion" before unit-level economics are stabilized.

Zi Pani places great emphasis on fresh ingredients and signature recipes. The cafe offers a variety of sandwiches, fresh artisan breads baked on site, soups served in freshly baked bread boules, gourmet salads and a wide selection of breakfast items. For those in a hurry, a special Express area has a variety of already-prepared sandwiches and salads made fresh throughout the day.

"Our main goal is to satisfy our guests while providing an exciting and unique experience. Amazingly fresh food, unique menu selections and a friendly cafe atmosphere, that's who we are," said Wagnon. "We're constantly innovating our menu and looking for new and better ways to please our guests."