Panera has announced that it will close the last of its charitable stores, which allowed people to pay whatever they wished for a meal. The Boston store shut its doors permanently on Friday, February 15.
“Panera Cares” stores were indistinguishable from other Panera eateries in their branding, menu, or furnishings. The only difference was that they announced that no one would be turned away if they did not pay one cent of the “suggested prices.” Those who could not afford to pay full price could volunteer for an hour at the store in exchange for the food.
The first store debuted in 2010 and, soon, they served 4,000 people a week. At its height, the unique model had four other locations in Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Dearborn, Michigan; and the St. Louis suburb of Clayton, Missouri. Panera founder Ron Shaich said part of his motivation in opening the stores was “torturing the cynics, who were arguing” that customers would pour in to enjoy “lunch on Uncle Ron.”
What happened next was predictable. Swarms of high school students helped themselves to lunch each Monday through Friday. The homeless dined there every meal, every day.
Panera has trained staff to turn away anyone drunk or on drugs, and the cafe works with Portland Police, the Hollywood Neighborhood Association and the Hollywood Boosters when issues arise. Cafe managers met with the Grant principal, and a letter was sent to parents. … Panera Cares now allows students to visit only after school hours. Panera also educated the homeless about its mission. No one is allowed to come every day, for every meal – only for a few meals a week.
“We’re not a soup kitchen,” [manager Dave] Hardin said. “We’re only one piece of the puzzle.”