Panera Opens "Pay-it-Forward" Style Community Cafe in Government Center

Panera is expanding its network of restaurants that help those who can't afford full price meals.

The Panera Bread Foundation has opened its fifth nonprofit cafe where customers can help pay for others' meals. 

"This is a pay-it-forward model and will only work if the community supports it and one another,” said Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Panera Bread and president of the Panera Bread Foundation in a press release Wednesday.

The Panera Cares location — at 3 Center Plaza in the Government Center — has no cash registers or prices, but rather uses donation bins and suggested donations for meals. Customers are encouraged to leave a little bit more to cover the meals of those who cannot contribute, said Shaich.

If a customer cannot pay they are asked to donate an hour of their time volunteering in the community in exchange for the meal. 

"This is a cafe of shared responsibilty," reads the sign at the store's entrance. "We are not about a handout. We are about a hand up for those who really need it. In the end, our non-profit cafe can only survive if you support its mission ... and each other." After a brief explanation of "how it works," the sign ends with: "We trust you'll do the right thing."

The store joins four others — in St. Louis, MO, Detroit, MI, Portland, OR and Chicago, IL — and was built by the Panera Corporation at a cost of $1 million. For those unable to donate, there is a volunteer program available.

“Today, there are more than 1,600 Panera bakery-cafes in 44 states and Canada, but our roots are right here in Boston,” said Shaich. “It is a combination of our ties to the city, the generosity of Bostonians and the community needs that make the city ideal for our newest Panera Cares cafe.”

There have been issues at the Panera Cares location in Chicago, where restrictions on the number of times "food insecure" individuals can get a meal from the location have been put in place, according to a report from the Lake View Patch.

The store has limited repeat customers who would come in daily to one meal a week, although they can still pick up pastries and bread daily. This decision came following community complaints and coincided with additional security measures.

The 4,500 square foot bakery-cafe in Boston will employ more than 40 associates and managers.

What do you think of Panera's "Cares" concept? Does it make you more likely to patronize the business, locally? Tell us in the comments.


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