A restaurant heavily damaged in the August tornado hosted a charity lunch a day before it reopens to honor the police officers who helped restore order after the destruction.
The Panera Bread at 5601 E. 41st. St. was one of many businesses damaged or destroyed by the EF2 twister that bore down on 41st Street between Yale Avenue and Sheridan Road in the early hours of Aug. 6.
After nearly four months of extensive repair work, the bakery will reopen Tuesday. Before doing so, however, store managers and other officials of the St. Louis-based chain opted to organize a luncheon Monday benefiting those who helped in the tornado’s aftermath.
“Tulsa police were on the scene so quickly after the event, and they were here for hours and days and weeks,” Panera spokeswoman Erin Barnhart said. “Not only were they making sure the public was safe, but they were watching over our businesses. We were open to the outside for quite some time before we could get the repairs done.”
Barnhart said 100 percent of the proceeds from the invitation-only lunch will be donated to the Tulsa Police Department Foundation. The amount donated will be tallied by Tuesday, she said.
The money will be used to help purchase much-needed equipment — such as Tasers and pepper-ball guns — for officers, foundation Chairman Roger Chasteen said. It also will help pay for training and community-relations programs.
Monday’s event exemplifies the purpose of the foundation — a joint effort between law enforcement and Tulsa residents to enhance the safety of both, he said.
“This is a great example of what we’re trying to do to develop community involvement by letting our officers get to know the citizens and letting the citizens get to know the officers,” Chasteen said.
Numerous officers attended the luncheon, and the Police Department brought along some of its heavy vehicles for the public’s enjoyment.
Panera’s employees, who were temporarily reassigned to other locations during the rebuilding process, toured the TPD’s armored truck and took advantage of the special photo opportunity. The Edison High School Marching Band greeted people as they arrived in the parking lot.
Before the event, Mayor G.T. Bynum spoke about the city’s resiliency in times of disaster. He also commended the Police Department for its response to a nighttime tornado that wreaked havoc without warning.
“I am thankful for the first responders who were here on that day who secured this area to keep it safe for people and to keep the property secure for the property owners,” Bynum said. “We had next to no looting here, and I largely contribute that to the great work of the men and women of the Tulsa Police Department.”
Sgt. Richard Meulenberg, who took part in the luncheon, recalls arriving at the scene the day after the tornado and thinking that the Panera Bread property looked disastrous. The building’s front wall had collapsed, leaving behind a pile of bricks and glass.
Two bakers were working inside when the twister struck but were not injured.
At the time, the extent of the destruction led Meulenberg to question whether the bakery and the surrounding businesses could ever reopen. Although some still have not, he is glad to see that Panera was able to return.
“The Panera Bread and the adjacent buildings here were pretty much decimated by that storm,” Meulenberg said. “People put hard work into it and put it back together again. It looks amazing.”
Panera is set to reopen its doors at 6 a.m. Tuesday after undergoing a full interior remodel, including extended seating and new wall art. The first 100 guests to visit the restaurant will receive a free French baguette and a coupon for a free loaf of bread.
Original story can be found here.