Dan, an associate at a Panera Cares Community Cafe

Panera Cares® Community Cafes

Panera Cares® community cafes focus on making a difference–every day of the year.

When Panera Bread® began looking for a new way to give back to its communities, it started with research. The finding? Food insecurity—or when one does not have the funds necessary to cover the number of meals one is supposed to eat in a given week—is a growing problem in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 50 million people in the United States are considered “food insecure.” More than 17 million children fall into this category—that’s 1 in 4 children.

A light bulb went off for Panera. Sure, people in need often have access to soup kitchens, food pantries, or other such solutions and Panera Bread could (and does) donate food to those places. But such facilities could never offer the full Panera experience—freshly prepared, wholesome food served by friendly associates in a warm and welcoming environment. Such elements differentiate Panera and create a dignified, uplifting eating experience. Why not offer the same experience to those who had come on hard times?

These were the first seeds of an idea that eventually became Panera Cares community cafes. For more than three years, the Panera Bread Foundation has been working on developing these non-profit community cafes of shared responsibility.

Warm Food, Warm Experience

At Panera Cares community cafes, patrons find the same menu one would find at a for-profit Panera Bread bakery-cafe. But instead of prices, suggested donation amounts are posted on the menu panels. Customers are asked to contribute what they can in the donation bins—whether that’s more, less, or equal to the suggested amount. Diners who do not have the means to donate can contribute by signing up for a volunteer shift if they choose.

Panera Cares operates in Clayton, Missouri and Boston, Massachusetts. The goal of the cafes is to be self-sustaining—to generate enough donations to cover all direct operating costs while being able to cover the cost of meals of those in need of a hand up.

Taking the Next Step

In the spirit of making a direct difference in the communities in which they operate, the community cafes have begun to develop additional programming. Starting with the Clayton location, job-training programs for at-risk youth have been launched as a way to leverage Panera’s core competencies to make a difference. Working with Covenant House Missouri, a nonprofit organization for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth, the Panera Cares team developed a 10- to 14-week training program that is run out of the Clayton location. The focus is on preparing the youth for future employment by offering both life- and job-skill training. The youth become certified in different positions available at Panera Bread bakery-cafes (to help them be more hirable after graduation) and are provided with classes in areas such as communication, accountability, and budgeting to prepare them for their futures as working adults.

Eileen Guelich, employment counselor for Covenant House Missouri, says that the youth are a good fit for the program.

“They have not had many opportunities afforded them in their life. At Panera Cares, they begin to realize that there is power in giving of your time and talents.”

Always Giving

On Thanksgiving Day, Panera Cares community cafes are open for a half-day. With warm meals and warm smiles, the cafes invite the communities in to share in the responsibility and help feed those who are struggling with food insecurity. But when the doors close, many Panera Cares associates will continue to give back and fight hunger by volunteering together at local soup kitchens.