Wherever Flour Flies

Meet Panera Bread's Head Baker Tom Gumpel

Gumpel is responsible for "wherever flour flies."

By Ilene Denton February 17, 2017 Published in the January-February 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

 mg 0547 c1kmuz

Image: Gene Pollux

Tom Gumpel is vice president of product development  (informally called “head baker”) for the Panera Bread Company, responsible for “wherever flour flies,” he says, at the nationwide chain of 2,010 fast-casual bakery-cafés. The company made headlines last year when it pledged to remove a long list of artificial additives from its menu. “We feed 12 million customers a week,” says Gumpel. “It’s a big job for all of us, and it’s growing and changing and evolving. It’s a blast.”


“I’m a Culinary Institute of America graduate and former dean; I ran the baking college there for 10 years. Panera recruited me 13 years ago. A team of strategists guides the vision of where we want to take the food, and as a team of chefs and bakers we help drive that vision.”


“Vacation brought me and my wife and now 12-year-old daughter to Sarasota from Connecticut in 2010. We took a ride through town and saw a lot of homes for sale and decided to buy a place. We moved here full-time a year later. It’s a great place. My daughter sings in the youth opera, and we’re golfers. We keep a boat on Longboat Key and we’re out fly fishing every weekend. [Living here] puts me on the plane a lot, but it’s worth it. Flying back into Sarasota every week and seeing that water, it’s incredible.”


“In Sarasota, we own half the cafés on the company side, and the other half are franchise-owned. I’m in and out of them all the time when I’m home; our ritual is going to the Panera at Midtown Plaza after golf on Sunday. When I visit the Paneras here they know me.”


“One of our latest initiatives has its roots in Sarasota. I used the café near The Mall at UTC for several months earlier this year to test ideas on a new line of eight or nine cookies, everything from coconut macaroons to a big, sharable cookie called the kitchen sink. The line will be national in January; you’ll see it front and center [in our cafés].”

Filed under
Show Comments