12 Bakery Chains Ranked From Worst To Best

Bread, donuts, bagels, pretzels, croissants ... Bakeries are the best place to get anything made out of fresh dough. A nightmare for anyone allergic to gluten, but heaven for anyone else. 

While the first bakers date all the back to the ancient world and would mostly just make bread, today you'll find a lot more to choose from in bakeries. They've become a common sight across the world but some countries do tend to have the upper hand on the market. The United States is not one of them. While a few chains have been able to expand quite well, the U.S. market has been harder on others. Proof lies in the many bankruptcies that have been filed by chains on this very list.

Amongst the more famous bakeries, you'll find Panera Bread and its number 12 ranking in Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report of 2019. Others include Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, or Auntie Anne's, the American classic. But what makes a bakery good? How come certain bakery chains have become more famous than others? Is the fame well-deserved? Is the bread fresher than others? Do these chains offer more choices? A lot of factors come into play and it's important to make the right choice as a bad croissant might just make you never want to try another one again. 

12. Auntie Anne's

While Auntie Anne's is usually a staple for teenagers or young adults that spend a lot of Saturdays at their mall's food court, it might be time to revisit that. Auntie Anne's seems to be lacking in certain areas. This is not to say it's bad, but let's just say it probably shouldn't be your go-to bakery chain. A few criteria come into play as we say this. 

For starters, as far as health goes, Auntie Anne's is way off. While a bakery isn't known to be the healthiest place to eat, there is a way to do it without loading your lemonade with sugar. That's right, at Auntie Anne's the lemonade has 47 g of sugar in 16 oz. On top of that, the Original pretzel is far from healthy with 990 mg of sodium and 65 g of carbohydrates. Those facts can go all the way up to 1250 mg of sodium in the Roasted Garlic & Parmesan Pretzel and 84 g of carbs in the Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel. These numbers make your original Auntie Anne's pretzel significantly unhealthier than a regular pretzel you would find in the snack aisle of your grocery store. 

Finally, at Auntie Anne's, there aren't many options, unfortunately. Although we're well aware that the company specializes in pretzels, it would be nice to have a few more options in terms of menu items offered and also in terms of variety in menu items. Why not sell gluten-free pretzels, for example?

11. Corner Bakery Cafe

While Corner Bakery Cafe is not the most famous chain, its growth is undeniable as it now has locations in 19 states. The bakery chain serves sit-down meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Power Breakfast Egg Bowl, Bacon and Cheddar Panini, Apple, and Banana Overnight Oats, Chicken Orzo Soup, Shrimp Scampi Linguini ... and that's not even half of it. Let's just say that if you're going for a full meal, there is really nothing bad to say about Corner Bakery Cafe. However, for a place with the word bakery in it, the baked goods just aren't up to par. Unfortunately, while the meal options are overflowing, when it comes to baked goods, the list is limited to cookies, baby Bundts, and bars. 

With meal options so good, Corner Bakery Cafe has become quite the spot for office workers during lunch. While it could have kept working well off of lunchtime meals only, a larger selection of to-go baked goods and pastries might have helped to avoid filing for bankruptcy in March 2023 due to low foot traffic since the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, when office workers started working from home, lunch hours at Corner Cafe Bakery became much quieter. 

10. Au Bon Pain

Speaking of struggling bakeries, Au Bon Pain went from opening locations in every corner of the East Coast in the 1970s to closing them one by one in the last few years. While Au Bon Pain was one of the first truly successful bakery chains in America, it was not able to keep up with emerging competitors that started popping up a few years later. After acquiring then selling Au Bon Pain in the '90s, Panera Bread bought the French-named bakery back in 2017 before selling it again in 2021. Over the years, Au Bon Pain locations started to close where Panera Bread would open. The sales of the once beloved bakery were crashing.

However, it was maybe not a bad thing. If you compare Au Bon Pain and Panera Bread, the latter does seem to have better quality for better prices. Some details are also non-negotiable when picking where to go like the fact that every Panera entrée comes with a free choice of side and every coffee has free refills. Overall, the products are similar but the quality is slightly better at Panera Bread. Why go to Au Bon Pain if you can go to Panera and get almost the same meal just better?

9. Pret a Manger

Although Pret a Manger has been able to establish itself quite well in cities like London and New York, where it's a popular destination for office workers on their lunch break, it's had a hard time getting itself across the U.S. You'll find mostly healthy options ranging from salads to soups and sandwiches, but also a large selection of yummy pastries like croissants and cinnamon rolls. Unfortunately, the food options of this European chain can be quite unfamiliar to the American market, making it less appealing. However, the ingredients are fresh and everything is made the day of in the on-site kitchen. Whether you come for lunch or for a quick pastry, your food will likely be warm and delicious.

In 2018, however, Pret hit a bit of a rough patch after the death of a customer due to an unlabelled sesame baguette sandwich. And although this would be very bad for any restaurant, Pret a Manger is known for being a healthy, natural, organic place to eat which does make it somewhat worse in the eyes of customers. Since then, Pret has tried making amends and allergens as well as all ingredients are clearly noted for each item.

8. Five Daughters Bakery

Maybe you haven't heard of Five Daughters Bakery yet but that could certainly change — and hopefully in not-too-distant future. The family business only has locations in Tennessee and Georgia for now but with a stamp of approval from none other than actress Reese Witherspoon, this cute bakery is bound to expand. Specialized in donuts, they are all made fresh, daily, and from scratch, always non-GMO, and sourced locally as well as organic when possible.

Five Daughters Bakery donuts are good, that's undeniable, however, the only showstopper that is truly worth the trip to Tennessee or Georgia is the Hundred Layer Doughnut. This hybrid between a donut and croissant comes in six different flavors and will cost you between $4.75 and $5.35, as of April 2023.

We've mentioned a lack of options in bakeries above and although this might also be the case here, the multitude of different donuts and the quality more than make up for it. Plus, if you think about it, with only one item you're getting both a croissant and a donut.

7. Paris Baguette

While some bakery chains have dwindled, it's left room for new ones to succeed. Paris Baguette is currently dominating the industry with locations popping up everywhere in the country. Its significant growth throughout 2022 has pushed the company to set a goal of 64 new locations in 2023. Chief Development Officer, Mark Mele confirms, "There's a tremendous amount of opportunity in the bakery café space." He goes on to say, "No one else is doing what we are on the same scale, and that's attracting a lot of attention."

The South Korean chain does in fact offer a wide range of Parisian-style baked goods like croissants, pain au chocolat, tarts, and cream puffs with some added Americanized items like the Jumbo Twisted Donut or Pastry Frank, and let's not forget the ultimate bakery item that surprisingly enough is linked to Vienna as much as it is France.: the baguette. Unfortunately, while French-style baking is quite big in South Korea, the name Paris Baguette implies you'll be getting pastries that resemble what you could get in Paris, however, menu items like its fruit pastry, curry croquette, or mini garlic croissant are not exactly Parisian and definitely more exotic than what you'll find at a classic French bakery. 

6. Panera Bread

This bakery chain needs no introduction, as most of us have probably already been to or at the very least heard of it. Panera is one of the more famous bakery chains but it has unfortunately shifted focus away from the bakery aspect of the company in order to be more of an eatery. While this is great in some ways, like having larger seating areas, it has also created less of an attraction towards the pastries and baked goods. Panera is famous for its bread that is still baked fresh on-site, however, the soups and salads are bigger crowd-pleasers than the cookies or scones.

Nonetheless, Panera Bread is a safe bet in terms of bakery chains in the United States. You can still get great bagels and bread as well as a full meal. On top of that, coffee refills are free, which makes it a great place to sit down and smash out some work for a few hours. All in all, Panera Bread is a good bakery choice if you don't know where to go, and chances are you have one near you. Affordable and accessible!

5. Le Pain Quotidien

Here is another European chain that has been able to expand its footprint in the United States. A lot like Pret a Manger, Le Pain Quotidien marketed itself as a healthy option amongst the sea of junk food. Unlike Pret a Manger, however, LPQ, as it's commonly called, has a more refined feel to it. Walk into any Le Pain Quotidien and chances are you'll smell fresh bread almost identical to what you could smell in a small Parisian bakery, and the menu offers quiches, tartines, and bowls.

Although the sitting area at any Le Pain Quotidien is quite big and restaurant-like, the bakery aspect hasn't been put to the side like at Panera Bread, with a to-go counter that includes everything you could expect to find in a bakery. It's an appetizing feature that is highlighted even more by a seasonal menu. That's right, the menu changes with every new season to make sure to incorporate fruits and veggies that are at their peak.

4. Boudin Bakery

If you're a San Francisco native or if you've ever taken a trip to the Bay, you might have walked past or even eaten at this iconic bakery based near Fisherman's Wharf. It's the oldest continuously operating business in the city and the home of the original San Francisco sourdough bread. Although sourdough traces back to Switzerland, loaves made in SF have become iconic to the city with their unique taste created by the famously foggy climate that is perfect for the wild yeast cells and natural bacteria.

Boudin Bakery has a restaurant, bakery, and even a gift shop at the original San Francisco location, but has since expanded across California. In terms of bread, it doesn't really get better than Boudin as far as American chain bakeries are concerned, and if you ever stop by for lunch or dinner, a must-try is the famous clam chowder. The menu also includes sandwiches, salads, soups (in bread bowls, of course), and baked goods from muffins to croissants and cookies. It's not guaranteed that Boudin will expand across the country but if you're ever near one in California, it's a must!

3. Levain Bakery

Calling all cookie lovers! At Levain Bakery you will probably eat the best cookies you've ever had. When it first opened in 1995, co-founders and friends Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald, turned what was originally just a way to fuel their triathlon training into a cookie shop that has to be one of the most famous in the country. Since then, Levain Bakery has become iconic in New York and is a must for every tourist from the U.S. and the world.

What is special about Levain Bakery cookies, you might ask? First of all, their size. Levain Bakery cookies are six ounces which, if you can't visualize it, is very big. They are also some of the gooiest cookies ever! Let's just say everything you could dream a cookie to be, Levain Bakery cookies are, and they are priced at $4, which, for a dream cookie, is not that expensive. The choices aren't huge since Levain only offers four cookie flavors: dark chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, oatmeal raisin, and chocolate chip walnut. Although it's more of a cookie shop than a bakery, it's so good that its third-place ranking is well worth it. Even Taylor Swift is reportedly a fan of the cookies!

2. Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery is adored by NYC locals and tourists from across the world alike. The first location of this bakery chain was on Bleecker Street in Manhattan which happens to also be the location that made a cameo on the third season of "Sex and the City" when Carrie Bradshaw stopped by.

The bakery has known such a big success since its opening in the '90s that on top of having opened locations across the country, it also has locations in ​​India, Jordan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, and Qatar.

Magnolia Bakery is most famous for its cupcakes and banana pudding, which are nothing short of heavenly. While the cupcakes weren't always iconic to Magnolia, it sure snagged that label after Carrie and Miranda ordered them. As for the banana pudding, the classic version has banana pieces and vanilla wafers layered in a rich and creamy vanilla pudding, while the chocolate version has Oreo wafers. The rest of the menu is just as mouthwatering with items like no-bake icebox cakes, flourless chocolate cakes, and specialty cheesecakes in flavors like peanut butter and chocolate, pistachio, vanilla and chocolate swirl, and lemon.

1. Bouchon Bakery

For the best of the best, Bouchon Bakery might just be as good as it gets when it comes to bakery chains in the United States. Inspired by Parisian bakeries, chef and owner Thomas Keller created Bouchon Bakery to bring a small part of France to the U.S. He opened the first location in Yountville, California right next to his already existing restaurant Bouchon Bistro, which also offers classic French cuisine. The already much-loved bread made its way to the bakery side with the additional offerings by pastry chef Nicholas Bonamico like croissants, pain au chocolat, muffins, and coffee cakes, as well as the iconic macarons, tarts, cookies, and other sweets.

On TripAdvisor, customers are just as happy with Bouchon Bakery as we are: "This tiny bakery in Yountville CA (Napa Valley) is famous for good reason. It is arguably the best French pastry anywhere around." Award-winning chef Keller even carried out the success of his bakery into a New York Times best-selling book named after the bakery. While the Yountville location stays one-of-a-kind with its yellow and green storefront and cute courtyard, Bouchon Bakery now has locations in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and New York City.