Bahjat Shariff

Operating Partner
Howley Bread Group/Panera Bread

Award Profile

Courageous Thinking and Action
Bahjat came to the United States in 1985 with $300 and a college acceptance letter. Living in Los Angeles proved to be expensive, so he got a job working at Kentucky Fried Chicken. This opportunity to work in the hospitality industry led him on a courageous path from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Before partnering with Howley Bread Group in 2000, Bahjat would handle millions of dollars in sales as a regional manager for KFC, Au Bon Pain, and Bertucci’s. As a leader of the top fast-casual brand – Panera Bread – in the country, Bahjat has learned throughout his career how to make quick decisions to maximize and strengthen the brand. Bahjat never hovers, he empowers his team to plan and execute the goals and along the way guides his team through the risks and rewards of working within the Panera Bread brand.

Vision and Innovation
Bahjat is a true visionary and can spot trends from 1,000 miles away. He’s a natural when it comes assessing industry and economic trends that effect the brand. He is a true believer in technology and understands that it can give the brand the competitive edge it needs to remain at the top.

One of his strongest traits is communication and he works with his team to communicate and connect with customers and the community through social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.) He also uses social media to encourage, inspire, and challenge his team to be visionaries, ambassadors, and leaders of the brand daily. He sets his expectations extremely high, not only for himself, but also for his team. His vision is contagious and leads the team to deliver and work beyond expectations.

Inspiring Leadership
Bahjat works to inspire and empower his team of 1,300 to carry out the mission of Panera Bread to serve with warmth and integrity. His leadership within the team inspires others. He leads by example and is the first to jump up to help when its needed. As Bahjat travels from café to café to meet with his teams, you see a leader that pitches in when needed, from assisting a customer at the front door, to cleaning tables, or rolling up his sleeves to make a cappuccino, he is all in. Bahjat looks for leaders throughout the organization and recognizes them publicly, whether they’re in their first job at the café or a manager of a team. Bahjat enjoys seeing his teams succeed, whether its hitting their goals, advancing in their career, or just living the Panera Bread mission.

Community Mindedness
Bahjat is a huge supporter of Children’s Friend, a Providence based social service agency partner of Howley Bread Group for more than 15 years. He volunteers his time on various committees including the Children’s Friend Walk & Run sponsored by Panera Bread, the Holiday Drive and the Children’s Friend Luncheon where he led the fundraising committee and live auction for 6 years. In addition to his work with Children’s Friend, he is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Board and co-chairs the Career Pathways Advisory Committee.

He is also a passionate board member of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and National Restaurant Association, where he dedicates his time to advance the hospitality industry in Rhode Island and nationally. He is a constant advocate and a champion of community. He, along with his team, work with charity partners and charity events to support their missions and to make the community a great place to liveand work. To date they have helped to raise $5.7 million for various local charities in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

JA Mission Moment
We had a great experience sharing “Our Story” with JA students during a recent JA Job Shadow program at Panera Bread. The students asked many great questions and were engaged with our people and showed genuine interest in our business and the industry.

A few of our Operations Team and café associates shared their stories of growth and success. You could see the JA students connecting with our associates as they shared their stories. At Panera Bread and Howley Bread Group, we are proud to provide young people the opportunity to start in the restaurant industry with little or no experience and to help develop them into leaders within our company and our industry.

Much like the JA mission, Panera Bread strongly believes that providing young people with a structured work environment to grow and learn new skills will set them up to be future leaders and contributing individuals within our community and State. The return on this work can only further enhance our future in Rhode Island.