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Panera Bread sold for over $7 billion

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ST. LOUIS (AP) - Panera is being acquired by Europe's JAB Holding Co. for more than $7 billion, the second largest restaurant deal made in North America in at least decades.

Americans are likely more familiar with JAB than they know. The Luxembourg investment fund has controlling interests in Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee Co., Stumptown Coffee and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. The deal for Panera, however, underscores its sway over what people eat when away from home in the morning.

For days there had been speculation about a takeover at Panera, with Starbucks Corp. being suggested as the potential buyer. Starbucks appeared to shoot down those rumors this week by talking about how excited it was about the launch of a new food menu in Chicago later this month.

On Wednesday, St. Louis-based Panera revealed the buyer was JAB, which has quietly become a rival of the giant Seattle coffee brewer.

Panera Bread Co. founder and CEO Ron Shaich said a deal with JAB will allow the company to focus on growth rather than placating shareholders. If and when the deal closes, Panera will be a privately held company not required to file quarterly financial reports for investors.

Not that Shaich has left investors wanting. Panera's shares are up 50 percent this year and on Wednesday, the company said that sales rose 5.3 percent at established company-owned locations in the first quarter, outperforming the broader restaurant industry.

"Many of these deals happen when people feel weak," said Shaich. "We're doing this from a position of strength."

Shaich opened a Boston cookie store in the early 1980s and expanded to more than 2,000 bakery-cafes with annual revenue of $5 billion in sales.

JAB will pay $315 per Panera share. That's a 14.5 percent premium to the company's Tuesday closing price of $274.

In records going back to 1971, the only North American restaurant deal bigger than the sale of Panera was the buyout of Tim Hortons in 2014 by the parent company of Burger King, run by 3G Capital, according to FactSet.

The Panera deal, which includes approximately $340 million of debt, is expected to close in the third quarter. It still needs the approval of Panera shareholders.

Shares of Panera surged $38.94, or 14.2 percent, to close Wednesday at $312.94.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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