Panera Bread Company will open its first nonprofit café on the west coast, in Portland next week. If you haven’t heard about the concept, the menus have a “suggested amount”, but customers pay what they feel they can afford.
From the NY Times,
“In some ways it is a test for humanity,” said Ron Shaich, founder of Panera who launched the concept for the company. “Will people step up and help each other or will they take advantage?”
So far, people have stepped up. Panera said about 20 percent of the visitors to the cafes leave more than the suggested amount, 20 percent leave less and 60 percent pay what is suggested.
Those who are not able to pay anything do not have to, but the cafe suggests they volunteer their time in support of the organization.
“This is not about a handout,” Shaich said. “This is about a hand up, and every one of us has a need for that at some point in our lives.”
There are a number of other independent community kitchen formats already in existence around the country such as those in Denver and Salt Lake City. Panera, however, is one the first chain restaurants to make the leap.
The company is converting an existing Panera restaurant in the Hollywood neighborhood into the community cafe format. Panera looked at a number of potential sites around the country but said that it felt the “sensibility” of Portland suited the project. The company also tries to place restaurants in economically diverse neighborhoods that can support the format.