When Panera Bread® locations close for the night, the unsold bread and baked goods that remain on their shelves start a second shift—feeding the hungry.
Five minutes before closing time at the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Pensacola, Florida, manager Udo Freyhofer sees the bakery cases are still brimming with enticements: Cinnamon Crunch Bagels, oat-flecked loaves of Whole Grain Bread, moist squares of Double Fudge Brownies. But they’re not doomed to languish overnight or, worse, be tossed out: as soon as the doors close for the evening, Udo and his associates carefully package up the leftovers and hand them over to a waiting volunteer from a non-profit community organization. These baked goods won’t make an encore appearance at the bakery-cafe tomorrow; instead, through Panera’s Day-End Dough-Nation™ program, they’ll go to people in need.
Because Panera has always been committed to selling only freshly baked goods, it only allows items to sit just a single day on the shelves. But rather than relegate unsold breads, bagels, muffins, and pastries to a dumpster, employees box them up for local nonprofits. That could be any tax-exempt rescue mission, food pantry, food bank, soup kitchen, meals delivery program, senior center, nursing home, school, or church, says donations coordinator Angie Spinner. “Organizations that receive donations have to be feeding people who are ill, needy, elderly or children in the community,” Angie says.
Once a local soup kitchen, for instance, is approved to receive Day-End Dough-Nation goods, it sends a volunteer to Panera after closing time for a weekly pickup. The following day, the soup kitchen can serve the donated bread and pastries alongside the meals it gives its needy clients. Some large food banks pick up donations every night. Most groups, however, participate just once a week, says Angie.
In Kirkwood, Missouri, Carol Bachman drives to Panera Bread each Tuesday evening. Carol is a volunteer with Operation Food Search, a St. Louis-area food bank. She arrives a few minutes before closing time and watches as employees pack up leftover baked goods for her to load into her car. The next morning, Carol delivers the product to Kirkwood House, a retirement home for low- to moderate-income seniors, some of whom are physically challenged. There, volunteers slice the loaves of bread and package bagels and pastries into bags for residents to pick up in the home’s kitchen; those who aren’t mobile get a small package hung on their doorknob. “They look forward to it,” says Bachman. “It’s a thing that they normally would not be able to afford, to go to Panera and get a pastry or a bagel. It makes them feel really special.”
It makes Panera employees feel pretty special too. “Some other companies may sell their old products the next day at a discount. We don’t,” says Udo, “I feel good about having fresh items available for our customers while helping out the needy in our community.”