Panera Bread Learns People Are Basically Good

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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.

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