Panera Bread has opened a café in Boston that doesn't have a cash register or prices on its menu. Rather, the store is employing a pay-what-you-can business model.
There is only a bin at Panera Cares, where customers can donate however much is in their pockets. The menu at the new location is the same as at all other Panera stores. Panera co-chief executive Ron Saich calls the store “a test of human nature.”
"Now that the site is open, it’s up to the community to sustain it," Saich said in a company statement
. "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."
Saich added the pay-it-forward model will only work if the community comes together and supports one another.
The store has limited repeat customers who would come in daily to one meal a week, although they can still pick up pastries and bread daily. The decision came following community complaints and coincided with additional security measures, according to Patch.com
Located near the Government Center in Boston, the new store is just blocks away from Panera's flagship location at Downtown Crossing, which was founded in 1981. The chain now has more than 1,600 locations in 44 states and in Canada.
The Boston Panera Cares location is the chain's fifth donation-based store. The company has launched Panera Cares locations in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, and Portland, Ore., over the past three years, according to Panera's website.
The new 4,500-square-foot location in Boston will employ more than 40 associates and managers. It cost the company $1 million to build and open the store. Panera donated the cafe to the Panera Bread Foundation, the company's charitable organization, and will operate it on behalf of the foundation, according to a press release.
Saich said the idea behind the shops is to treat people with dignity, no matter what they can afford for a meal.
“Many of the places that give out food can be very negative,” he said in the statement, “but we had the potential to create a place with positive energy — a place that feels like every Panera in America.”
So far, few people seem to be taking unfair advantage of the system.
Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount, 20 percent leave more, and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The company also participates in more conventional charity programs, such as donating unused baked goods to churches, schools, and hunger relief organizations, according to Cleveland.com.
“Before a cafe even opens, we have organizations set up to receive day-end donations. Not a single item goes to waste,” Panera regional marketing director Cara Sutch said.
The goal of the new Panera Cares location is to counter cynicism.
“The truth is, when given the chance, most people will do the right thing,” Saich said.
Wayne Gilchrist, who said he lives under a bridge in Cambridge, told the Boston Globe he made a modest donation for a coffee and French bread with butter.
“I’m homeless,” Gilchrist said. “I got nothing and still gave because I want others to have.”
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