Panera’s pay-what-you-can experiment ends

The soup and sandwich chain plans to close its last Panera Cares store, saying it “is no longer viable.”
Photograph: Shutterstock

Nearly a decade ago, Panera Bread launched its nonprofit, pay-what-you-can Panera Cares program with the goal of expanding it to every city in the country.

But the fast-casual chain will shutter its last such cafe, a store in Boston, next week, according to a statement from the company emailed to Restaurant Business. It will join already-closed pay-what-you-can cafes in Dearborn, Mich.; Portland, Ore.; Clayton, Mo.; and Chicago.

"During its six years in operation, we served meals with dignity to everyone who walked through our doors," the statement said. "Despite our commitment to this mission, it's become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable."

Under the Panera Cares model, each menu item was posted with a recommended donation. On average, consumers ended up paying 85% of the suggested price, according to company reports.  

Panera founder and Executive Chairman Ron Shaich told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, upon the closing of the Missouri cafe last year, that “the nature of the economics did not make sense.”

Nevertheless, Shaich called the pay-what-you-can stores a success.

“We served probably a half-million meals through this cafe, all at no set prices, as a gift to the community,” he told the newspaper. “We loved it, it worked well, it proved that the idea would work.”


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