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New Panera to open in Ballston this week and its first customers will get free meals for a year

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Like a phoenix rising from the ashes — or a Barnes & Noble returning to Georgetown — Panera Bread is making its triumphant return to Ballston.

The fast-casual bakery-cafe chain announced today that it is gearing up for a grand opening this Thursday (Dec. 21) near the Ballston Metro station, at the corner of N. Stuart Street and Fairfax Drive.

(This morning, the company said it would be opening on Thursday. Earlier afternoon, it said the opening date was bumped back a day, to Friday. An hour later, the company said the original date was correct.)

To celebrate the grand opening, Panera is offering a special promotion in which the first 50 customers will receive free meals for a year, per a press release.

The promotional offer — redeemable for up to one free “You Pick Two” meal per month for 12 months — will only be available this Thursday and Friday. Recipients must have a MyPanera account to participate. The free food offer will then run from Christmas Day next week until Dec. 25, 2024.

Between 6-10 a.m., guests can also spin a prize wheel for a chance to win other items such as, free tumblers, cookies and bagels.

The new Panera, at 4250 Fairfax Drive, will take over the space formerly occupied by Cosi, which shut its doors in late 2019 after the company filed for bankruptcy. Cosi, a chain known for its flatbreads, sandwiches, soups, and salads, also closed its other Arlington locations in Rosslyn, Courthouse, Virginia Square and Crystal City.

Panera used to have a location in the old Ballston Common Mall, which closed in 2016 before the mall’s transformation into Ballston Quarter.

Currently, Arlington is home to one other Panera, in Rosslyn.

“We are thrilled to be opening a new Panera in Arlington,” a company representative said in the press release. “We are excited to grow our presence in this wonderful community and look forward to delivering the great tasting food and impeccable service our Virginia guests have come to expect from Panera.”

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