After deeming their experiment in Missouri a success, Panera Bread Co. has announced plans to bring their non-profit cafe model to Chicago by transitioning an existing location in Lakeview to a "pay-what-you-want" pricing plan.
The company, based in suburban St. Louis, launched the experiment one year ago in Clayton, Mo. with a store connected to Panera's charitable foundation that accepts donations instead of charging fixed prices. By asking patrons to pay what they can, the company hoped the flagship cafe would help feed the needy while also raising money to reinvest in the community.
"We were doing this for ourselves to see if we could make a difference with our own hands, not just write a check, but really make a contribution to the community in a real, substantive way," Ronald Shaich, Panera founder and chairman, told the Associated Press.
This week, Panera announced plans to convert a restaurant located at 616 W. Diversey Pkwy. into a pay-what-you-want partial nonprofit starting Thursday, according to WGN.
The Lakeview Panera Cares Community Cafe will serve the neighborhood's 9,000 residents who are experiencing food insecurity, according to CBS Chicago. Shaich said that if previous locations are an accurate predictor, 60 percent of patrons will meet the suggested prices, while 20 percent will leave more money and 20 percent will leave significantly less. Customers who can't pay at all will be allowed to trade work time for credit.
Shaich said he hopes the community-based payment model will help make the Lakeview cafe an uplifting experience for patrons.
"When you walk in, it's the full Panera experience," Shaich told the Chicago Tribune. "When you go into a soup kitchen, the energy is so negative and the food is institutional and the experience is institutional."
Two similar cafes have also been opened in Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore., since the Missouri experiment. The company, which has more than 100 locations in the Chicago area, told the AP they expect to open more.
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