Panera Bread Takes Corporate Social Responsibility to a New Level

Panera Bread opened its first non-profit cafe with the motto: Take what you need; leave your fair share.

I was surprised to read about Panera Bread’s new cafe in St. Louis dubbed the St. Louis Bread Company Cares Cafe. The concept is simple yet groundbreaking… take whatever you want to eat or drink and instead of paying a cashier, drop whatever you can afford into a donation box. And if you don’t have any money, you can donate your time. Crazy concept, I know.

According to a great article in USA Today, Ron Shaich, who stepped down as Panera’s CEO last week, is “trying to find out what human nature is all about” and is banking on our humanity. He said he’s dreamed about doing something like this for years. So the question is will Panera’s social experiment prove that goodness does exist in the human condition or that we are fundamentally selfish creatures at heart?

The new St. Louis Bread Company Cares Cafe looks and feels just like its for-profit sister, Panera Bread, even the menu is the same. The only difference is the baked goods are one day old. They are unsold items from other St. Louis Bread Company restaurants in the area. The exception is the bread used to make sandwiches.

I love this idea! I know for a fact that many bakeries and cafes such as Starbucks discard their unsold pastries at the end of every day. Yep, right in the trash. We waste so much food in this country, and Panera has established a creative way to eliminate unnecessary food waste while feeding the hungry.

Other non-profit cafes which Panera has planned for outside of St. Louis will be called Panera Cares Cafes. The company was founded in St. Louis and still calls its restaurants located there St. Louis Bread Company. Shaich’s goal is to open the Panera Cares Cafes in “every community where there’s a Panera.” He told USA Today that he plans to open two more in two different cities, but he refused to say where.

Now, the cafe has its share of critics and cheerleaders. Some folks believe this will change the entire restaurant industry as we know it while others are skeptical that consumers will embrace compassion over greed. I’m siding with the cheerleaders. But in the end, the responsibility falls on us.

If we want to see more Panera Cares Cafes or community cafes around the country, we as consumers need to step up. Patronize Panera Bread cafes in our local communities; tell Panera we support their non-profit mission. And if you are lucky enough to live near a community cafe, go and go often perhaps giving a little more than the cost of your meal.

We are so quick to criticize companies for their negative impact. Now, we have the opportunity to support a company’s positive one. The USA Today article concluded…

Many have warned Shaich that this will fail. He thinks otherwise: “The core of my life has been to make a difference. Now, I’m using my business background to make a difference in the world.”

This is corporate social responsibility at its best so let’s prove the naysayers wrong.

For more community cafe locations visit One World Everybody Eats.

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