St. Louis-based Panera Bread Company has announced that, effective immediately, founder and executive chairman, Ron Shaich, and president and current chief executive Bill Moreton, will become co-CEOs.

According to the company, the transition formalizes a relationship that has evolved over the last year and is a reflection of the way in which Shaich and Moreton have been operating as partners.

Panera Bread named Moreton president and CEO in November 2009. At the time, Shaich was stepping down to become the chain's executive chairman of the board.

Under Moreton's stewardship, the company signed a development deal to open three locations in Toronto, and has continued growing its revenue and same-store sales base.

"This is the kind of partnership with Ron that I've always wanted. It couldn't be better for Panera and I personally couldn't be happier to have the opportunity to continue to share the leadership of Panera with Ron," said Moreton, who will retain his title as president and now, Co-CEO. "Panera will certainly benefit from both of our experiences and the company will be stronger for our shared vision, passion and commitment."

Since stepping down as CEO, Shaich has focused on Panera Cares, the company's pay-as-you-go model of restaurants. Panera Cares is a program run by the non-profit Panera Bread Foundation and is designed to be self-sustaining with support from the community.

The first concept of its kind opened in May 2011 and there are now three open, one each in St. Louis, Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore. Two additional locations are expected to open later this year.

"This company is something I am profoundly committed to and care about deeply. As many observers of Panera know, over the last year, essentially all of my time has been spent on a range of strategic and innovation efforts for Panera. I've continued to find Panera the best platform I know of to make a difference in the world," Shaich said. (Read also, Ron Shaich: The accidental philanthropist.)

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