A year after the first pay-what-you-want Panera Cares restaurant opened, the results of what guests actually pay have heartened the sponsoring Panera Bread Foundation Inc.
The foundation, led by Panera Bread Co. chairman Ron Shaich, debuted the first community café concept in Clayton, Mo., in May 2010, with the goal of ensuring that “everyone who needs a meal gets one.”
The nonprofit bakery-cafe concept, which has since expanded to Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore., has no prices for its menu items, only suggested donations, which guests deposit into bins.
Donations go to sustain the restaurants. At the Clayton, Mo., branch, funds also support a job-training program for at-risk youth.
EARLIER: Panera opens non-profit cafe in Michigan 
About 20 percent of café visitors leave more than the suggested amount, 20 percent leave less and 60 percent leave the suggested donation, Shaich said in a statement Monday.
“In many ways, these cafes are a test of humanity. We didn't know if people would help each other or take advantage,” he said. “Twelve months later, we're proud to say that people have really stepped up and are helping us achieve our goal ensuring everyone who needs a meal gets one — whether or not they can afford it.”
A spokeswoman for Panera said more community cafes are planned, perhaps one every three months or so, but the next locations have not been announced.
Operating under the names Panera Cares or St. Louis Bread Co. Cares, the three cafés were converted from former Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread cafes. Each community cafe serves an average of 3,500 to 4,000 customers a week and generates about 75 percent to 80 percent of the retail value of the food, the Panera Bread Foundation reported.
Earlier this month, Clayton restaurant saw its first three graduates from the 12-week job-training program that it operates with the nonprofit Covenant House Missouri.
“By helping the youth develop self-esteem, accountability and independent living skills, our hope was to provide participants with the foundation needed to begin a professional career,” said Kate Antonacci, project manager of Panera Cares. “And so far, the program has done just that.”
The Panera Bread Foundation said it hopes to launch similar job training programs at the other community cafes in Dearborn and Portland.
At the end of its latest first quarter, Panera Bread Co. operated or franchised 1,467 bakery-cafes.