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Panera Cares Community Cafe

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Panera Cares Community Cafe

If you walk into one of Panera Bread's Panera Cares Community Cafes, you may not notice anything different at first. It looks like a Panera. The menu is the same Panera Bread menu you'd find anywhere else. But as you move through the line, you'll realize that where the cashier should be, there's a donation box and at the bottom of the receipt, where the total should be, is a suggested donation amount.

Panera Cares is a new kind of cafe, run by Panera Bread Foundation, a non-profit organization which allows customers to pay what they can, if they can, with the option to volunteer an hour of time in exchange for a meal if they can't. And, while it seems like a huge risk to gamble the cafe's success on the goodness and honesty of people, they have found that most customers pay the suggested donation amount while 20% pay more. Knowing that paying full price or even an extra dollar could help fund or supplement the meal of the person standing behind you seems to make an often thoughtless daily exchange much more personal. Not to mention, part of the donated money goes towards offering job and life skills training for at-risk youth as well as continuing to help feed those in need.

With their first cafe opening one year ago in Clayton, MO, they have already opened two more locations in Dearborn, MI and Portland, OR. A spokeswoman for Panera confirmed that more Care Cafes are in the works but no new locations have been announced. In their 2011 press release, Ron Shaich, Panera Bread's co-founder and Executive Chairman, and President of the Panera Bread Foundation was quoted as saying, "The vision for the Panera Cares cafe was to use Panera's unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities. Thus, the Foundation developed these community cafes to make a difference by addressing the food insecurity issues that affect millions of Americans."

Well, that is certainly thinking outside the (lunch)box.

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