The Panera Bread Foundation opened its fifth nonprofit community café, called Panera Cares, in Boston. The cafe opening comes on the heels of four successful community café launches in St. Louis, Detroit, Portland, and Chicago over the past three years.
Panera Cares is a new kind of café, one that exemplifies an entirely different way of giving back. It is a nonprofit community café of shared responsibility. The goals of this charitable program are to help ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one and to raise the level of awareness about food insecurity in the country.
"We are thrilled to be opening a Panera Cares café here at home," says Ron Shaich, founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Panera Bread and president of the Panera Bread Foundation.
"I have lived in the Boston area for over 30 years and opened my first restaurant at Downtown Crossing, just blocks from our new Panera Cares location,” he adds. “We have thousands of Panera team members living and working in the area. We are part of this community and have a vested interest in addressing the very real problem of food insecurity that many of our neighbors deal with."
Similar to the other Panera Cares cafés, the newest location is centrally located and easily accessible by public transit, so it can attract an assortment of economically diverse customers.
"Today, there are more than 1,600 Panera bakery cafés in 44 states and Canada, but our roots are right here in Boston," Shaich says. "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 café."
The vision for the Panera Cares café is to use Panera's unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs, make a direct impact in communities, and raise the issue of food insecurity.
"This community café is a gift to the community that was funded by Panera. All of the build-out costs—nearly $1 million—were covered by the company," Shaich says. "Panera donated the café to the Panera Bread Foundation and will operate it on behalf of the Foundation.
“Now that the site is open, it's up to the community to sustain it. All consumers have to do is cover its direct operating costs. They do so by donating for their meals and leaving a little bit more if they're able to help cover the costs of the meals of customers who cannot contribute,” he continues. “This is a pay-it-forward model and will only work if the community supports it and one another."
Inside, there are no cash registers or set prices, only suggested donation amounts and donation bins. The Foundation began developing these nonprofit community cafés in 2010 as a way to help address the food insecurity issues that affect millions of Americans.
"Having a Panera Cares community café in Boston will serve as a great resource for those in our community facing food insecurity," says Catherine D'Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank. "This is a step in the right direction to help end hunger and raise awareness of this ongoing epidemic that affects one in nine residents of eastern Massachusetts and one in six Americans."
For those without the means to donate for a meal, the Panera Cares café also offers a volunteer program option.
"It's important that we find ways for the community to support our Panera Cares café, even if someone is unable to do so monetarily," Shaich says. "That's the purpose of our volunteer program. A customer can help perform basic front-of-the-house roles (like cleaning tables, sweeping, etc.) for one hour and receive a meal voucher at the end of that hour. It's a way to add to the dignity of the experience, while still encouraging people to contribute to our mission through their time."
Any donations in excess of direct operating costs will be used to develop additional programs to serve the community. In St. Louis, Detroit, and Portland, for example, Panera Cares offers a job-training internship program for local at-risk youth.
The intent of the program is to enhance the participants' educational experience, teach necessary work and life skills, and provide access to a real-life working environment and team.
The new 4,500-square-foot bakery-café in Boston will employ more than 40 associates and managers. Numerous vendors also contributed to the effort to develop the Panera Cares community café in Boston, either by donating or discounting the price of everything from rent to furniture to coffee.