Friday, June 17, 2011

Panera Cares: Paving the Way for "Pay What You Can"

A good while back, I wrote a series of pieces on the emerging "pay what you can" business model, giving special attention to Panera Bread's first such restaurant, opened in early 2010 in a suburb of St. Louis. Then called St. Louis Bread Company Cares, now re-dubbed Panera Cares, the prototype cafe offered the popular chain's full menu of soups, coffees and sandwiches but encouraged customers to pay whatever they could afford for the meal. It seemed an ideal fit for these economically distressed times, and the past year has only further borne that out.

Now Panera Cares has proven such a success that the company has opened two more locations, one in Detroit and another in Portland, Oregon. All three cafes, run by a non-profit arm of Panera, turn a modest profit, which is donated to an employment program for at-risk youth. Earlier this week, Lucas Kavner over at the Huffington Post branded Panera Bread founder and chairman Ron Shaich their "Greatest Person of the Day" for spearheading the innovative and timely corporate effort.

As Kavner writes:

Panera plans to open a Panera Cares location every four months in the next year, and the company will serve at least half a million meals through the program. Ron says more locations will be established as long as his model continues to work.

"Imagine a world in which WalMart did all the distribution for food shelters," Ron said. "Or where Gap ran thrift stores or where Home Depot was involved more intimately in rebuilding communities. It all comes back to defining responsibility in corporations. We have to demand this of them."

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