Launched in 2010, Panera Bread’s Panera Cares footprint will disappear February 15. The last existing location—the Boston Panera Cares in Center Plaza—is set to close that day after a six-year run, ending an initiative the company hoped could help it give back to communities. Panera previously closed the other cafes, including locations in Chicago’ Clayton, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and Dearborn Michigan.
Panera’s aim was to allow customers to give a suggested donation for their food. It hoped this pay-if-you-can model would raise awareness about hunger across the U.S. The funds collected would, in theory, cover the store’s operating costs while also providing meals for those who couldn’t donate.
In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, Panera said, “Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable. We’re working with the current bakery-cafe associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain.”
Panera, owned by JAB Holdings Company, scooped up Au Bon Pain last November.
The chain added in a statement to Boston.com, “we served meals with dignity to everyone who walked through our doors. … Panera remains dedicated to our other long-term philanthropic programs, like Day-End Dough-Nation, which donates $100 million worth of retail goods annually to feed those in need nationwide.”
Per Bloomberg, Panera said those who couldn’t afford their food, including homeless patrons, were intended to eat in the restaurant. While that was supposed to create a feeling of community, it also highlighted the “tensions that arise when private business try to be welcoming for everyone—a challenge rival Starbucks Corp. has also faced,” Bloomberg said.
Last January, Panera shuttered its St. Louis Bread Co. Cares Community Café. At the time, Panera founder Ron Shaich, who shifted to a chairman role with the Au Bon Pain deal, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that “we were on a month-to-month lease and the store requires significant investment. The nature of the economics did not make sense.” But it added that it was far from a failure. “We served probably a half-million meals through this café, all at no set prices, as a gift to the community.”
Panera added in its statement to Boston.com, “We’re working with the current bakery-café associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain. Panera is committed to ensuring a smooth transition for all associates.”