Of Clam Chowder and Comfort Food for the Soul

How a Panera Bread manager's good service evoked a grandson's gratitude – and stirred a social network.

It was just a bowl of soup.

But it meant so much more to Brandon Cook when he called the looking for a bowl of comfort for his dying grandmother.

"All she wanted was some Panera clam chowder in a bread bowl," said Cook, of Wilton.

That was last Monday.

When he called he found out the seasonal chowder is only served on Fridays. He asked for a manager.

Suzanne Fortier, one of five managers at the Amherst location, took the call. After hearing the story of Theresa Cook's craving for her favorite soup, Fortier stepped up.

"She not only got me the soup, she gave it to me, no charge," said Cook.

And she threw in a box of cookies.

In return, Cook decided to give Fortier a shout out on his Facebook timeline.

"I did it because you just don't see that anymore. People are so cold. I just wanted to thank her," Cook said.

When Brandon's mom saw the post on her son's Facebook page, she was touched that her son went the extra mile to do something nice for his 84-year-old grandmother.

"She has been in and out of the hospital with congestive heart failure, and so they didn't realize she had cancer. That diagnosis just came two weeks ago," said Gail Cook, of Wilton, who runs a family business with her husband, Earl. "My mother-in-law was discharged a few days later, and is getting hospice care at home in Merrimack."

The diagnosis, of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, got the best of whatever fight was left in Theresa Cook. She is resting comfortably at home now, under the care of her husband, Tom Cook Sr., and her son, Tom Jr.

Between the daily medication, and progression of her illness, her mother-in-law's appetite has been off.

Gail Cook said the soup was the best medicine her son could have delivered.

"She had about 10 bites, which was a lot. I didn't think she was going to make it through the weekend, but I have to figure the soup helped strengthen her a little," Gail Cook said.

She recognized that, beyond her son's willingness to deliver soup to his grandmother, that wish would not have been possible without the kindness of Fortier.

"So I reposted Brandon's Facebook comment on Panera Bread's Facebook page. I just thought they should get some credit for what they did. It was so kind," Gail Cook said.

Since then, the post has gone viral, fast approaching 500,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments, as it's being shared by good-hearted soup story lovers across the social network.

Some people are getting the story mixed up, or responding on Gail Cook's Facebook page wondering if the story is a hoax, because of way the plot has shifted as it's been shared.

"As long as it's out there, I just wanted to make sure people get the story straight. It's no hoax. I think it's so touching to other people because they are relating to the situation. People need good news," she said. "But I also think there's something about the story, across the generations, that's touching – a lot of kids my son's age don't have that, and a lot of people think kids that age are just punks."

Because of Facebook, Brandon Cook's gratitude for the chowder has been magnified, many times over.

"We've had calls from people all across the United States, lots of them, saying 'good job,' and 'way to go,' and 'thank you, Sue.' It's pretty amazing," Gagnon said.

Fortier is humbled by the whole thing. She believes the real hero is Theresa Cook's grandson, and maintains she only did what any other Panera manager would've done, said fellow Panera manager Charity Gagnon.

"That's really the kind of company we work for, and typical of their employees. Suzanne has been saying that she knows any one of us would have done the same thing; she just happened to be the one to answer the phone," Gagnon said.

That doesn't change how the Cook family feels about the kindness extended to their family by Fortier on behalf of the restaurant.

"Some of my friends, after hearing the story, said, 'Hey, that's cool; but it's just a bowl of soup.' They don't realize what it meant to me to be able to get that soup for my grandmother when she asked for it," Cook said. "I don't know if she's had much to eat since."

He said if only his grandmother was not so sick, he'd try to explain what a big deal her simple request has become.

"I totally wasn't expecting this to take off like it has. If my grandma even knew what a Facebook page was, I'd show her," Cook said. "My grandmom's biggest fear was dying with no friends. I wish I could show her how many 'friends' she has out there, and how many prayers people are saying for her."

Jeff Peters August 17, 2012 at 08:50 PM
This is such a great story that we had to include in on our "5 things you shouldn't have missed this week" blog post for this week. Which, if you're interested, you can find here: http://bit.ly/MCKW6T. Honestly, this was a very classy move. It was so simple and while the marketing benefit shouldn't be the major factor, it does show how being respectful, classy, and human can be valuable. I'd love to see more things like this.
Carol Robidoux August 17, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Jeff, I wholeheartedly agree. Classy move.
ron ferrari August 30, 2012 at 06:22 PM
this is the kind of story that makes me smile on the inside also remenber there's more good people than bad go grandma i'll say a pray for you may god bless you ron ferrari
Nick August 31, 2012 at 03:11 AM
I'm 32 and lost my grandmother a few years ago and if I could have done anything to make her feel a little better at all I would have. I'm glad that you had the chance to do so with help from Panera. Well wishes and prayers to you and your grandma.
P August 31, 2012 at 04:15 AM
God is good! Thank you Panara This story is so uplifting, I will be praying for your family god is so good


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