Panera Bread asks customers not to bring guns to its restaurants

Panera Bread is asking customers not to bring guns into its restaurants. The request places it on a growing list of companies asking guests to refrain from toting firearms into their locations amid an ongoing nationwide debate about gun policy.

"The request is simply we recognize everyone's rights," said Panera CEO Ron Shaich during a phone interview Monday. "But we also recognize that we are building communities in our cafes and are where people come to catch a breath."

A customer exits a Panera Bread Co. location in New York, U.S.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"We're simply respectfully requesting that people leave their guns at home," he added. "It's that simple."

The move nods to why people choose to dine at Panera—essentially to catch a breath and mellow out, Shaich said. To date, the chain hasn't had any material issues with firearms at its stores, he added.

While the request is new, Panera plans to continue to follow state and local laws regarding firearm policy. The chain also won't ask employees to enforce the new request or place signs about it in its restaurants.

"We're certainly not going to put our associates in the position of confronting someone carrying a gun," he said. "We won't put our café management in the position of being law enforcement."

Following the decision, one gun policy reform group cheered the decision.

"We are thrilled that after months of discussions between Panera and Moms Demand Action, Panera is taking a proactive position in favor of our families' safety by putting a new gun policy in place. Moms are the consumers-in-chief of our households and we will reward companies that take a stand for our families' safety. We urge other national companies follow suit," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, in an email.

Panera's move follows similar announcements from several other chains. Last year, Starbucks began asking diners to refrain from bringing guns in restaurants while Chipotle Mexican Grill said the same earlier this year after gun-rights advocates brought assault-style rifles into one of its locations. Sonic and Brinker International's Chili's have also issued requests about gun carrying at their stores.

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"I think this industry has attempted to figure out how it stands out of 'make a point' political battles by advocates on either extreme," Shaich said. "I think what we feel is we're trying to be respectful of people's rights while at the same time ensuring that Panera isn't the battleground for political statement."

When asked about potential alienation due to the request, Shaich said the chain's customer base hold a wide spectrum of opinions.

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"I think at its core people get the request to make this an everyday oasis and not make this a battleground for political opinion," he added.

—By CNBC's Katie Little