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Panera can come to Hurricane after Applebee’s owner drops opposition

By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

WINFIELD — Panera Bread can now move into a Hurricane shopping center, after an Applebee’s owner agreed on Thursday to drop attempts to stop the move in court.

In 1996, the companies that owned the Liberty Square shopping center and the Applebee’s restaurant at the shopping center agreed to a covenant that said Liberty Square’s owner “shall not allow any other portion of the Center now or hereafter owned or controlled by it to be used for any other full service, casual dining restaurant similar to Applebee’s.”

The covenant stated that a restaurant would be considered similar if it served food and alcohol, and listed Fuddruckers, TGI Fridays, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday and O’Charley’s as examples of eateries banned from Liberty Square so long as Neighborhood Hospitality had an Applebee’s or any other “full-service, casual dining restaurant” there.

When Neighborhood Hospitality learned that Four-S Development, Liberty Square’s owner, was negotiating to lease property there to Panera, a nationwide bakery and cafe chain, it objected that Panera should also be banned under the agreement.

Four-S asked a Putnam circuit judge in January to declare it had the right to locate the Panera in its shopping center, and Neighborhood Hospitality requested an injunction in response.

In its request, Neighborhood Hospitality argued Panera is currently “experimenting with providing its customers with both table service ... at various Panera Bread locations throughout the nation,” and said if table service is offered at the Liberty Square site it would violate the covenant. The Applebee’s owner also argued that, “upon information and belief,” Panera uses alcohol in some of its foods and is “seriously contemplating” starting to serve alcohol.

Four-S responded by requesting summary judgment against Neighborhood Hospitality, and included an affidavit from the Panera franchisee stating that the larger Panera franchise prohibits its restaurants from selling alcohol.

“Defendant’s position is based on conjecture, speculation or surmise,” Four-S argued.

On Thursday, a hearing was scheduled, but Neighborhood Hospitality agreed to drop its objections. The agreed order states Neighborhood Hospitality will not interfere with the Panera or seek damages related to it as long as it doesn’t serve alcohol or violate the covenant in any other way. Four-S still has 20 days in which it can request the court make Neighborhood Hospitality pay for its legal fees.

A spokeswoman for Neighborhood Hospitality, based in Hazard, Kentucky, had no comment on why the company dropped its request for an injunction against Panera.

The Panera will be the first in Putnam County and the eighth in West Virginia, according to Panera’s website. Other West Virginia locations include one in the Charleston Town Center Mall and one at Southridge Centre on Corridor G.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.


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