Panera Bread Learns People Are Basically Good

Published on July 2nd, 2010 | by

Panera Bread sets an example with its non-profit cafe and challenges other corporations to push their philanthropy beyond writing checks.

Last month, I blogged about Panera Bread’s new non-profit cafe in St. Louis dubbed the St. Louis Bread Company Cares Cafe. The idea was simple… take whatever you want to eat or drink and instead of paying a cashier, drop whatever you can afford into a donation box.

Ron Shaich, who stepped down as Panera’s CEO last month, opened the non-profit cafe “to find out what human nature is all about”. He said he’s dreamed about doing something like this for years. Now, the cafe has been open over a month, and we want to know… what’s the verdict?

Did Panera’s social experiment prove that people are basically good at heart?

The cafe took in $100,000 in revenue its first month, and Shaich said in a recent interview with USA Today,

“I guess I would say it’s performing better than we even might have hoped in our cynical moments, and it’s living up to our best sense of humanity.”

Score a point for humanity.

But what I really admire about Ron Shaich is his interpretation of corporate responsibility. It’s much more than traditional philanthropy and cause marketing. True corporate responsibility is how a business operates in a community. What are its social and environmental impacts – good and bad.

In his interview, Shaich continued…

“The non-profit chain is a challenge to other corporations to push their philanthropy beyond writing checks. More valuable is to put their supply chains, technology and knowledge to use.

The fascinating question to me is: Can we take our skills — our core competencies, as we call them in business — and apply them very directly to solving some of the problems in society. And not just for publicity, but to make a difference.”

Bravo, Ron Shaich, bravo. Hopefully, other CEOs are listening.

Follow Cindy Tickle on Twitter @ethicalbiz
Image Credit: samantha celera via flickr under cc license.


About the Author

With more than 10 years experience working for a major Fortune 500 company, Cindy specializes in socially and environmentally responsible business strategies. She has developed successful corporate communications and stakeholder engagement strategies on contentious sustainability issues and has worked with a number of NGOs and activist organizations on how to effectively partner with multinational companies. Cindy frequently writes about topics ranging from what is corporate social responsibility to sustainable supply chain and measuring a company's environmental impact. She believes business plays a vital role in the health of our communities and our planet.