Everything Is Free with Greg Parker
August 2006

It had to be done, and I was just the guy to do it.

When the first Panera Bread appeared in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, about seven years back, an obsession took hold that I was unable to shake: Why donít they just go ahead and call it Pantera Bread? How can I make this happen?

Some people are blessed with well-balanced personalities that keep things in their proper perspective. The absurdities and trivialities of our contemporary culture do not consume them; in fact, they may not even register. Others, luckier still, may find a play on words like Pantera Bread amusing, but they move on to more pressing concerns, such as the nature of our existence, global warming, the current Israeli conflict, what they are having for dinner, etc.

As a broke college student, then later, as a struggling musician, I was in no position to make my Pantera Bread dream a reality. But with the vast amounts of capital now at my disposal due to the well-chronicled successes of Greg Parker International, I realized a few months ago that my moment has finally arrived.

Perhaps there are a few of you who donít live within a few miles of a strip mall graced with a Panera Bread. Established in 1981, there are currently 897 bakery-cafes in 36 states. The pacesetter in ďbread leadership,Ē Panera ďunderstands that great bread makes great meals, from made-to-order sandwiches to tossed-to-order salads and soup served in bread bowls.Ē I am holding out hope that we will see a Panera Bread Bowl in college footballís future, pitting the seventh-place team from the Big East against the sixth-place team from the Mid America Conference. It would serve as a fitting tribute to what bread leadership can buy you.

If you found your way here to PlugInMusic.com, Iím assuming that you know who Pantera is. I donít really know much about Pantera, other than theyíre a metal band from Texas that reached its peak in popularity in the mid-1990s; theyíre really loud; their guitar player died a year or two ago; and if Iím not mistaken, their lead vocalist yells in one of those deep, growling voices that sounds like itís coming from a constipated bear with a tenuous grasp of the English language.

I donít need to know more than that about Pantera to flesh out my vision for Pantera Bread; in fact, the less I know about Pantera, the better Iíll be able to sleep at night.

The first time I set foot in a Panera Bread was probably about two years after they first began appearing in Knoxville. The innocuous, pristine environs set me all a twitter. It was all too perfect, I thought to myself Ė folks came in for a bagel, pastry, sandwich, soup, coffee, and to skim the New York Times. It is the antithesis of everything we have come to associate with the head-banging anti-culture.

This dichotomy had me in ecstasy. What if the Panera Bread actually became Pantera Bread? What if it looked exactly the same from the outside, other than that little Ďtí stuck in the middle of Panera? Then, when you came inside, you would enter an assault on all five senses. It would make a wonderful documentary.

So in March 2006, I bought out the Green Hills franchise here in Nashville, my home since 2002. Green Hills was made for Panera Ė a strong upper-middle class; highly educated; literate; loves bagels, soups and sandwiches. In April, I assembled a crew for my documentary, Pantera Bread. In May, we closed the store for two weeks for our remodel.

Obviously, our staff needed to be retrained as well. When that didnít work, we fired every last one of them. A new set of standards were needed, so I set the following stringent requirements for any potential Pantera Bread employees:

1. A minimum of five visible tattoos and/or seven piercings.
2. Hair must be at least shoulder-length and dyed black, or head must be shaved. Dreadlocks also acceptable.
3. No previous experience in food services.
4. Must have prison record and/or be a high school dropout.
5. Drug test must be positive for at least one illicit substance.
6. Must be able to yell loudly in a voice similar to that of a constipated bear.

With a generous $7-an-hour wage and a lax attendance and behavior policy, we were able to procure the best possible staff for our new venture. Steven is a 22-year-old ex-pizza delivery boy with a flame tattoo encircling his cranium, the best constipated bear pipes Iíve ever heard, and a fairly serious meth problem. He works at the counter, where he is instructed to take every order as if he were the lead singer of Pantera (ďWHAT SIZE DO YOU WANT?!?!Ē ďDO YOU WANT SOUP WITH THAT?!?!Ē). Lacey is a 19-year-old unmarried, bipolar mother of three who uses prodigious amounts of eyeliner, Lithium, and Jack Danielís. She is the assistant manager in charge of scheduling. Jake is a 24-year-old metal freak. He has ten studs above each eyebrow and 80 percent of his body is covered in ink. He talks how Steven screams, only a little quieter. He has a really serious meth problem. Iíve caught him eating his scabs. He is our manager.

Having assembled this all-star crew, I was ready to reopen. There was no grand reopening Ė just a new sign with the Ďtí inserted, tinted windows, and business-as-usual, or so it appeared. Once those little Green Hills biddies came wandering in, they were greeted with ear-splitting guitar solos, broken glass, black walls, and the smell of body odor. We had to do something to keep them all from turning around and leaving, so we kept the menu the same.

Still, our business has declined by 90 percent, and itís that 10 percent that really has me wondering. But I thank my lucky stars for them Ė otherwise we wouldnít have a movie.

The quintessential scene so far was filmed in our first week before the word got out and we started getting all the lawsuits and bad press (thank GOD I lied on the insurance application). Two older Green Hills ladies came in for lunch after a morning of shopping at the Green Hills Mall.

Delores: Oh look, Paneraís open again!
Gloria: Oh, thatís great. Should we stop in for a sandwich?
Delores: Letís. I sure did miss it last month! (Delores opens the door, they enter, Pantera plays over the newly installed 300-watt loudspeaker)
Gloria (yelling): What on earth is going on in here?!?!
Delores (yelling): I donít know!!! This is horrible!!!
Gloria (yelling): The menu is the same! Maybe we can just get something to go and eat it outside!
Delores (yelling): That sounds like a good idea!
Steven (yelling into the 350-watt bullhorn kept at the counter for communicating orders): MAY I HELP YOU?!?
Gloria (knocked back about five steps, covering her ears): MY GOD!!!
Steven (louder): MAY I HELP YOU?!?!?
Gloria (yelling into Stevenís ear): UM, YES! MAY I GET A FRONTEGA CHICKEN PANINI WITH CHIPS AND A DIET COKE?!?!? AND SHEíD LIKE A TURKEY ROMESCO WITH A SALAD AND A DIET COKE!!! TO GO!!!!!
Steven: THAT WILL BE $22.57!!!
Gloria (in pain from having to uncover her ears to fish for her debit card): HERE!!!
Steven: THANK YOU! WAIT OVER THERE! HOLD THIS CARD UP WHEN WE CALL YOUR NAME!

Gloria and Delores are led away to the waiting area, a mosh pit, by Jim and Fred, two bouncer types who, together, are the size of a small elephant.

Gloria: What is this? We donít want to wait over here!
Jim: WHAT?!?
Gloria: We donít want to wait over here!!!

Jim throws Gloria and Delores into the mosh pit, where they are thrown around by people a third of their age and twice their size.

Ten minutes later, after Gloria and Delores are significantly dazed and bloodied.

Steven (into loudspeaker, in customary death metal chorus fashion): GLORIA! GLORIA! GLORIA!
Gloria (holding up card): HELP! HELP! THATíS US!

Delores is knocked against the wall as she tries to walk toward Jim and Fred, breaking her hip. She is sent to the emergency room for immediate surgery.

I plan to end filming soon because I have nearly reached the limit on my general liability policy, and Iíd still like to turn a profit on this little venture by hitting a homerun at the box office. The above incident cost us about $250 grand, and five similar incidents, all related or depicted in the film, have us pushing our million dollar policy limit. My largest expenditure by far in this project has not been production costs, but lawsuits and insurance claims.

I see this film as the post-suburban generationís The Decline of Western Civilization, only with a lot of unsuspecting old folks getting tossed around in the mosh pits. As bands like The Germs, Black Flag, and X took center stage in that film, employees like Lacey, Jake, and Jim are the central focus in my film. When Lacey is acid-tripping and breast feeding at the same time, it is not an isolated incident Ė it is a microcosm of a larger problem in our society. Great documentary filmmakers deal in microcosms, and this is about all I have in common with them.

For more on Pantera Bread, the movie and the cafe, visit http://panterabread.ytmnd.com/.

Make sure your speakers are on.