Nine years ago, Panera Bread launched a new concept cafe in select locations across the country with a pay what you want model. This week, after determining they can no longer sustain that kind of cafe, the company announced it’s closing the last open location on Feb. 15.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “The original idea was to allow customers to give a suggested donation for their food in a bid to raise awareness about hunger across the U.S. The funds collected were supposed to cover the store’s operating costs while also paying for those who couldn’t afford their food.”
The company’s founder, Ron Schaich gave a TEDx talk in 2012 saying the cafes were a “test of humanity.”
Eater reports that:
“We had to help them understand that this is a café of shared responsibility and not a handout,” Shaich said in a 2011 interview about the Portland location. “It can’t serve as a shelter and we can’t have community organizations sending everybody down.”
They also said students would mob the locations, often ordering free food and abusing the system. Restaurants weren’t even earning back 70 percent of what it was costing to keep the locations open, so the company pulled the plug.