Despite having a graduate degree and over 20 years of experience in his field, Bill Doherty* was laid off from his job earlier this year. With a big family at home, it wasn’t long before he was struggling financially.2010-12-09
One day, feeling a little down, Doherty wandered into the Saint Louis Bread Co.® bakery-cafe in Clayton, Missouri, for a cup of coffee. He was surprised to find that things were a little different. There were no prices. There were no cash registers. Even the name was different. This was because, even though this bakery-cafe had been in operation for nearly 20 years, the model had changed. It reopened in May 2010 as a non-profit community cafe called Saint Louis Bread Co. Cares.™
This cafe represents a social experiment by the Panera Bread Foundation. Customers are given a suggested donation amount for their order and can leave whatever they deem to be their fair share in one of the donation bins located throughout the cafe.
“I remember Bill coming in the first week we were open,” says Kate Antonacci, communications and project manager for the Panera Cares program. “He was always alone and sort of embarrassed that he couldn’t leave a donation. He wanted to contribute, so we told him that he was welcome to volunteer an hour of his time. He started doing that and those few hours of work a week actually helped him get going again. He began interviewing for jobs and eventually found a new one.”
The force behind this project is Ron Shaich, Panera Bread’s co-founder and Executive Chairman and President of the Panera Bread Foundation. He was looking for a more direct way to involve Panera’s communities in its charitable giving and was inspired by similar pay-what-you-can models. Ron and the team visited various cafes throughout the country, including One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City, Utah, So All May Eat (SAME Cafe) in Denver, Colorado, and A Better World Café in Highland Park, New Jersey, as part of their research.
What Ron concluded is that companies can do more than just donate product or write a check (practices Panera Bread is already actively engaged in). In fact, he concluded that companies are far better served leveraging their skills and expertise to make a more direct impact. For Panera Cares, this approach is working.
The response to the Clayton cafe was so strong that the Panera Bread Foundation opened a second nonprofit community cafe – called Panera Cares – in Dearborn, Michigan on November 29. It also announced plans to open a third cafe in Portland, Oregon, in January 2011.
At the end of the day, these cafes aren’t about offering a hand out. They’re about offering a hand up to those who need it. Panera Cares exist to make a difference by offering the Panera Bread experience with dignity to all– those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, and everyone in between.
*Identifying characteristics have been changed