Panera Bread to Close its Last “Pay What You Can” Café
Boston, MA - When Panera Bread opened their first “Pay What You Can” location in 2010, it was directly on the heels of a financial crisis that left an estimated 1.1 million Americans homeless. For a company that was virtually synonymous with corporate monopolization, it seemed like a novel concept: offering a business model based on suggested donations in lieu of full price to address the increasing reality of hunger. And the public took notice. When the first Boston location opened at 3 Park Plaza in 2013, close to 12% of the local population lived at or below the poverty line. In 2017, that number dropped only slightly, however—to 10.5%.
Of the original four national locations of Panera Cares, Boston was the only one still remaining (the original one in Clayton, MO. closed in early 2018.) But as of February 15, it will close its doors for good; the victim of an unprofitable business model.
An not-for-profit business model operated by a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization.
Panera Cares Cafe was owned and operated by the Panera Bread Foundation, a public charity initiative established by the Panera Bread Company to “raise awareness about the very serious and pervasive problem of food insecurity (hunger) in the U.S.”
In a public statement emailed on February 4th, The Panera Bread company stated “Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable. We’re working with the current bakery-cafe associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain.”
During its initial launch in 2010, Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich gave a TEDx talk in which he asked the audience, “In many ways, this whole experiment is ultimately a test of humanity, but would people pay for it? Would people come in and value it?”
Apparently, they didn’t. Yelp! reviews of the Boston café included such statements as “If I wanted to eat with a bunch of heroin addicts around me I'd just go to the methodone [sic] clinic in dorchester” and “I know they hire homeless people behind the counter, but the behavior I've seen by those workers is vile!”
For the sake of objectivity, it should be noted that the number of homeless residents in the city in 2018 was approximately 20,068. The 2019 Patriots Super Bowl Parade harbored 12 arrests for public intoxication and assault and battery, with one online commentator stating it resembled “an open air prison riot if the prisoners were day drunks shipped in from Winchester.”
There are no records of any arrests being made at the Boston location of Panera Cares in its six year history.