Panera Bread Isn’t Just Hungry for Attention
And on that measure, Shaich has had plenty of success. He’s generated coverage everywhere from USA Today to the Los Angeles Times about both the issue of hunger and, in the process, Panera. Shaich says his efforts to eat chickpea soup and generic Cheerios for a week wasn’t about him or his company, however. “I don’t view this as being about me,” Shaich tells me in an interview. “I’m using the position and authority that I have to bring awareness to an issue.”
That might sound like nothing more than P.R. speak, but this is not the first time Shaich or his company has gotten involved in the issue. In addition to food donation programs, Shaich has taken the unusual step in recent years of opening Panera locations geared toward feeding people who can’t afford $7 sandwiches. Shaich calls them “shared responsibility” cafes (or officially, Panera Cares cafes), but they essentially follow a pay-as-you-can formula, providing customers with a suggested donation rather than a price for its standard menu items.
The five cafes, located in economically diverse areas in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Portland, Ore., look and feel like a regular Panera. The primary differences are additional signage and more “ambassadors” who greet customers to explain how the cafes work. “The attempt was to see if communities would take care of themselves,” Shaich says.
The Panera Cares cafes are part of a 501(c)3, and Shaich won’t say whether the cafes make enough profit to cover their costs. “Each one is different,” he says, noting that some do a little better than others. “But Panera is there to support it. We’ve never closed one.” He says roughly 20 percent of customers pay more than requested, 60 percent pay the suggested donation, and 20 percent pay less-often much less.