“Panera Cares community cafes exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regardless of their means.”
Ron Shaich, the founder and co-CEO said the Chicago Lakeview location has particular significance for him because he wrote the company’s mission statement there. He added that the Lakeview location is ideal for a community store because there are “million-dollar townhomes and people on the street”, showing that there are customers who can help support the cafe and those who can benefit from a free meal.
“When you walk in, it’s the full Panera experience,” Shaich said. “When you go into a soup kitchen, the energy is so negative and the food is institutional and the experience is institutional.”
In order for this to be successful, consumers who have extra money are asked to donate it. Those who are short can pay less, and those who can’t pay anything can volunteer for an hour to eat for free. The idea works because Panera turns the stores over to the Panera Bread Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that runs day-to-day operations. This frees the publicly traded restaurant company of its obligation to run a profitable business.
All three of the current locations in Clayton, Mo.; Dearborn, Mich.; and Portland, Ore.; have turned a profit.