Syracuse.com offered the following national story:
As the first crowd of customers filed into Panera Co.'s nonprofit restaurant here, only the honor system kept them from taking all the food they wanted for free.
Ronald Shaich, Panera's chairman, admitted as he watched them line up that he had no idea if his experiment would work. The idea for Panera's first nonprofit restaurant was to open an eatery where people paid what they could. The richer could pay full price-or extra. The poorer could get a cheap or even free meal.
A month later, the verdict is in: It turns out people are basically good.
Panera, which operates 1,400 franchised and corporate-owned bakery-cafes across the country, plans to expand the nonprofit model around the nation, opening two more locations within months.
"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," Shaich said in an interview.
Its cashiers tell customers their orders' "suggested" price based on the menu. About 60 to 70 percent pay in full, Shaich said. About 15 percent leave a little more and another 15 percent pay less, or nothing at all. A handful have left big donations, like $20 for a cup of coffee.
The restaurant took in $100,000 in revenue its first month. He declined to say what kind of margin this left between total costs and revenue, but he predicted the restaurant will be able to cover its costs within months and eventually generate extra cash for charitable programs.
Panera's nonprofit plan is the largest example yet of a concept called community kitchens, where businesses operate partly as charities. Customers who need a discount, or even free food, can get it with no questions asked.
Shaich borrowed the idea from a restaurant in Denver and then connected with Denise Cerreta, who runs The One World Salt Lake City restaurant with a sliding scale menu. Cerreta's community kitchen and others he looked into were impressive, Shaich said, but operated on a smaller scale than Panera could afford to run.
The Clayton store is run under the company's St. Louis Bread Co. banner by a nonprofit organization called Panera Cares that publicly traded Panera Co. supports. But Panera won't bear the nonprofit's losses if the experiment fails. For the expansion, Panera spokeswoman Kate Antonacci said, the nonprofit is considering locations that, like Clayton, are upscale but accessible to lower-income customers. In Clayton's case, St. Louis County's offices and court house are nearby. Read more here.