Today marks the opening of Boston’s first Panera Cares location, and the fifth nationwide. As the nonprofit branch of Panera Bread, Panera Cares operates on a pay-what-you-can system, giving customers food and beverages for whatever amount they choose, if any, to pay.
The new café is located at 3 Center Plaza, just across from Government Center.
At Panera Cares, there are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donations and money collection bins. On a daily basis, it will be run by a staff of 40, but keeping its doors open requires a “shared responsibility” from the community.
As described by Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich in a statement:
This community cafe 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. 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. This is a pay-it-forward model and will only work if the community supports it and one another.
Those unable to pay for their meals can volunteer at the site, doing tasks such as sweeping or clearing tables for one hour, earning a meal voucher for their work.
“It’s a way to add to the dignity of the experience while still encouraging people to contribute to our mission through their time,” added Shaich.
Money raised beyond operating costs will go to additional programs for the community. For example, Panera Cares locations in other cities offer a youth job training internship program with their excess donations.
For those, like myself, who choose to ignore the guy asking for a few bucks outside of the Park Street T stop, Panera Cares may be the answer to giving back to the community while simultaneously grabbing lunch. What’s a few extra dollars for your sandwich if it could give someone the opportunity to eat lunch as well?