The Paneraettes

images Every morning when I venture into Panera for coffee, I’m greeted by the same group of sleepless people, for whatever their reasons happen to be.

Most of them are early workers by the looks of things, and then you have me.

Quite often you see us huddled under the awning waiting to be let in like hungry cats, first scurrying to our favorite booth to make camp for a peaceful half hour.

There’s the tall, African American girl who limps that works at Barnes & Noble. I always wonder, what does she do from the time she leaves at say, 6:45 till 9 o’clock when the store opens? None of us are really on chatty terms, so there’s no way of finding out. And the only reason I know she works there, is because I’ve seen her stacking books.

A pudgy Spanish guy is another regular who always waves to me from across the room. He’s the one who taught me how to use the microwave.

Hortense and Phylis are two women of color who work on Park and 84th. I’ve seen them enter the building on my way home. I only know their names because quite often they’re called out on their breakfast orders as they sit, eating like queens, without ever taking off their coats.

Mustn’t forget the African night watchman who wiggles his legs like Ike Turner. Must be some kind of nervous twitch, or else he’s just jiving as he waits in line. He likes Hortense, flirting with her by the Dark Roast Decaffeinated. He smiles at me I’m sure because he knows I’ve noticed, there’s a little early morning spark in the air.

Behind me, is a bespectacled guy about 35 fingering his wedding band with a look on his face as if to say…boy, I’m gonna kill her one day.

Behind him is a very short redhead drinking a pumpkin latte the width of a soup pot wafting under everyone’s nose. That’s the thing about Panera, they give you a lot for your buck, as well as pumpkin.

I’ve grown especially fond of some of the workers. Not all of them, since we do have  a touch of attitude here and there, like when Cassie refuses to wait on you until she gets her lip line just right. Me being of glamorous origins, tries to understand this even though, if I don’t get coffee soon, I’m just going to lean over and break that fucking pencil.

My hero though is Audrey who, at 3o years of age, is the mother of two little girls she self-supports with the sunniest smile on her face when she speaks of them. Puts me to shame since other than myself, I can’t manage to take care of a cat.

I always say how comforting ritual is, even if it’s this mundane. To sit in a vast diner reminiscent of Route 66 amid familiar faces you only see there, is a blessing.

It’s grounding, steadying you for the day.

There’s never a time I emerge without feeling fortified and fond of all that rests around me.

If one of them is missing or doesn’t show, I find myself wondering, did Phylis miss her train? Is one of Audrey’s girls sick?

And where the hell is Cassie…did she run back home to get that fucking lip pencil?




About Susannah Bianchi

I'm just a girl who likes to write slightly on slant. I've had a career in fashion, dabbled in film and to be honest, I don't like talking about myself. Now my posts are another matter so I will let them speak for themselves. My eBooks, A New York Diary, Model Behavior: Friends For Life and Notes From A Working Cat can be found on Thanks.
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22 Responses to The Paneraettes

  1. micklively says:

    There’s something about eating breakfast out. It’s a totally different world to lunch or dinner. There’s still that “everything to come” feel to the day; expectation and hope. Lunch is too “in between” to be real fun and dinner is just wind down.


  2. skinnyuz2b says:

    The familiar is always comforting. That’s why our children get upset if we move and sell the home they grew up in.


  3. katecrimmins says:

    I feel this way about my gym. I go there first thing in the morning and it’s the same crowd. We know stuff about each other that came out slowly over the years. When someone doesn’t show up for a couple weeks, there is concern and we have the owner call. Then off to Starbucks where they know my name and drink. The people there change every day although there are one or two that I see frequently. It’s the perfect way to start the day.


  4. It’s funny isn’t it, how we can form unspoken relationship just by repeated proximity. I used to pass this Vietnamese woman every day in Korea as we were both going to work and coming home. I only know she was Vietnamese because eventually I stopped to talk. I like that kind of thing, where even if you never speak, you make friends.
    Your story also reminds me of when my wife worked at Borders and I would go into the coffee shop there in the morning and see the same people day after day. I still remember the smell of the coffee and sitting in a comfy chair with my morning bagel and my laptop. Good times. 🙂


    • I so miss Borders. We had a great one on Park Avenue and 57th Street and do you know, it closed 3, maybe 4 years ago and the space is still empty. I’d hang out and read magazines lingering over a cup of coffee…they had wonderful greeting cards, a passion of mine. I love buying cards.

      Familiarity is nice, regardless of what guise it comes in 🙂


  5. Elle Knowles says:

    Routine…the older I get, the more I love it. We have certain places we eat at on certain nights of the week now. I used to think that was so strange when others did it. Now I understand.


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