By Meg O’Neil
A recent stroll through the Long Wharf Mall revealed a familiar spring scene – the planting of flowers and plants in pots dispersed along a storefront, beautifying the area for the approaching warmer weather.
The exterior of Panera Bread, the popular soup and sandwich chain restaurant that anchors the long line of shops on the busy wharf, has come alive in recent weeks with the addition of fresh vegetation and flowers that surround the building.
In a new business move, every Panera location around the country elects an employee to act as an Environmental Captain, whose responsibilities include reducing the store’s carbon footprint and examining energy-saving techniques.
So when the local store elected Brendan Graham to act as EC, he knew what he wanted to do with the restaurant’s exterior, but first, he needed plants and flowers -- and he knew exactly where to look.
Knowing that he had an opportunity to help a small, local business, Graham reached out to the Maher Garden Center on Aquidneck Ave. in Middletown. An offshoot of the James L. Maher Center, the 60-year old non-profit that supports over 300 adults with developmental disabilities, the Garden Center is a full service greenery that provides quality plantings to individuals and commercial activities in the community.
“I know they did great work at the center and I thought it would be a good way for Panera to support a local business,” Graham said. “As a corporation, we are trying to be more embedded in the community and I hope this partnership with the Maher Center is long-lasting.”
Though the planting process is just in its beginning stages at Panera, a number of clients from the Maher Garden Center will be working with Graham throughout the spring and summer once the restaurant sets up its outdoor patio and there is more room for flowers.
Maher Center Executive Director Angelo Tartaglione said the chance to partner with Panera has provided the center with the opportunity to continue their growth and expand their level of recognition in the community. “People know the garden center is there,” he said, “but they don’t really know what we do. This partnership will help get the word out there about the great things our clients do around town.”
With a small placard in every planter, any passerby will be able to see that all the plants have been installed by the clients of the Maher Center, a tribute to the hard work of those at the garden center.
“The center provides significant job opportunities for some of our clients,” Tartaglione said. “This is a great chance for us to show what we can do, it’s very appreciated … and we’ll be there for Panera whenever they need us throughout the year.”