Panera to open more ‘pay-what-you-want’ stores

Alexa Fee Contributor
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Panera Bread is showing its humanitarian side by opening two more pay-what-you-want restaurants in the United States.

The additional locations are set to open sometime in the summer or fall, according to Panera spokesperson Kate Antonacci.

The popular café began using the pay-what-you-want system in mid-2010 in certain select non-profit Paneras in Missouri, Oregon and Michigan.

Panera founder Ron Shaich began using the system in an attempt to help feed the homeless in St. Louis, Missouri, where Panera is based.

“I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about,” Shaich, 56, told USA Today in 2010.

Shaich, who has volunteered at soup kitchens, wanted to provide a better atmosphere for those who are in need of food. He converted a former company-owned café in St. Louis into the “Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café,” a non-profit restaurant for the needy to get a meal.

These non-profit Paneras do not charge for meals; instead, customers receive receipts for their orders that explain what that meal would have cost in a conventional Panera. Donations of the amount on the receipt are suggested, but not required. Those without money, like many homeless “customers,” are encouraged to donate their time working in the café.

Shaich has continued to expand the number of philanthropic restaurants.

“My hope is that we can eventually do this in every community where there’s a Panera,” he said.

There were initial concerns among the restaurant industry that this honor code system would not work, and would ultimately hurt Panera’s business, which had more than $2.8 billion in sales in 2010.

Since 2010, however, the humanitarian experiment as become a success. In 2011 Panera opened up several more pay-what-you-want stores. Statistics showed that in a majority of cases, customers donated the suggested amount; twenty percent left more and twenty percent left less, the Associated Press reported.

This cooperation by Panera customers has encouraged Shaich to plan on opening additional stores nationwide.

“The core of my life has been to make a difference,” he said. “Now, I’m using my business background to make a difference in the world.”

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