Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) reported results for the first quarter of 2015 after market close today. The bakery cafe chain's revenue and earnings both fell short of Wall Street's expectations. As I write this at 6 p.m., shares are down 4% on the news.

Panera's revenue increased 7%, to $649 million, below analyst expectations of $658 million. Earnings per share fell 9%, to $1.41, after adjusting for non-reoccurring items related to the sale of some of Panera's company-owned restaurants to franchisees. That, too, was below estimates of $1.44 per share.

Panera and its franchisees opened 11 and 14 new bakery-cafes, respectively, during the quarter. That brought the systemwide total to 1,901 bakery-cafes as of March 31, 2015, of which 933 are company-owned, and 968 are franchised. 

Yet systemwide comparable net bakery-cafe sales increased a meager 0.7% year over year, with franchise-operated same-store sales decreasing 0.1% and company-owned same-store sales rising 1.5%. In addition, operating margin fell approximately 180 basis points year over year as wage increases and costs related to Panera's growth initiatives took a toll. 

Returning more capital to shareholders
To its credit, Panera's management took advantage of the dip in Panera's share price in recent months to repurchase 155,401 shares at an average price of $160.84 per share, and total cost of $25 million. That's noteworthy because, even after its post-earnings announcement decline, Panera's stock still trades at about $180 per share.

In addition, Panera's Board of Directors recently approved an increase to the current share repurchase program to $750 million from its previous $600 million limit. Management expects to purchase $500 million of shares within the next 12 months. To help fund those repurchases, Panera will be issuing $500 million of new debt. 

Fiscal 2015 outlook
Looking ahead, management continues to expect 105 to 115 new bakery-cafe openings in fiscal 2015, with company-owned comparable bakery-cafe sales growth of 2% to 3.5%, and average weekly sales of $43,000 to $45,000.

Panera also projects operating margin to decrease 100 to 175 basis points when compared to fiscal 2014, excluding the impact of charges related to its refranchising initiative.

All told, management reiterated its full-year adjusted earnings-per-share growth target of "flat to down mid- to high-single digits" when compared to 2014.

Looking further ahead, Panera's present-day investments should drive growth beyond its core restaurant count expansion plan in potentially large areas such as catering, small-order delivery, and consumer packaged goods. These investments are hampering near-term results; but should the company be successful in its execution, these initiatives could -- in the words of Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich -- "reignite significant earnings growth for years to come."