Panera opens pay-what-you-can North Side cafe

June 21, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The Panera at 616 West Diversey will soon become a Panera Cares Community Cafe, the first one in Chicago. The restaurant will have suggested prices and donation boxes.

The concept turns on relying on people to do the right thing. The restaurant then offer meals to those who have little or no means. There's also the opportunity to donate an hour of cleaning for a meal.

Panera founder Ron Shaich is passionate about this form of corporate giving.

"Our issues are of the middle class in our society and they are our customers," said Shaich. "When a customer walks in and says, I lost my job and I wasn't sure where I was going to take the kids this week and I'm so appreciative that you're here to help us."

A local mental health group often would come to Panera for coffee to discuss their lives. Now they can come for a real meal just like any other customer.

"It promotes me to be a better person. It tells me people are here to help me and care about me and how I live," one member of the group told ABC7.

Panera has opened Panera Cares restaurants in three other cities. They have found 60 percent give more the suggested donation, 20 percent give more and the other 20 percent give less. So as a result the stores have turned a profit. Panera donates that money to local social service agencies in an entirely new form of corporate giving.

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