The Panera Bread Foundation will be opening at least two additional donate-what-you-wish Panera Cares restaurants later this year, bringing the total to five in its non-profit program.
The program, which launched in Clayton, Mo., in May 2010, has expanded to Panera Cares stores in Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore.
The next openings, at sites yet to be disclosed, will be in early summer and mid-fall, said Kate Antonacci, project manager for Panera Cares, which is operated as a non-profit 501(c)3 foundation alongside the St. Louis, Mo.-based Panera Bread Co.
“Our ability to succeed in those first three locations has given us the currency to build more,” Antonacci said. “We’re comfortable with the model and happy where they’ve gone. They are all self-sustaining, and that’s the metric we’re been working toward.”
The foundation estimates that about 20 percent of visitors to the cafes leave more than the suggested amount while 20 percent leave less and 60 percent leave the recommend donation.
Each café, on average, serves 3,500 to 4,000 customers a week and generates about 75 percent to 80 percent of the retail value of the food, Antonacci said.
“Last year, we served about a half a million people,” she said. “With the addition of two cafes in 2012, we’re hoping to serve about a million people this year.”
Panera Cares slowed development after the opening of the third store in Portland in January 2011, Antonacci said, “to make sure we were being wise in observing them.”
Details about the next openings will be disclosed later this spring, she said, though she is confident in Panera Cares’ real estate model.
“The cafes won’t work if you go into an area that is too extreme, in the sense that it is either too affluent or too poor,” Antonacci explained. “We’re spent a lot of time trying to identify sites that really have economic diversity that would allow these to succeed. You need to have people coming in who can make a donation, but you also need to have people who are in need of a meal.”
The three existing Panera Cares are in converted Panera Bread or St. Louis Bread Co. locations. Panera operates under the St. Louis Bread name in its home market.
“Each of these three cafés was a conversion, so there was a definite customer base that had been with us before we converted,” Antonacci said. “We’re pleased to see our traffic has remained consistent.”
In addition to providing donate-what-you-want meals, Panera Cares is also honing a jobs training program.
“One of the things we do – and have a strength at – is hiring and training people,” said Antonacci, who added that Panera Bread’s for-profit base hires 68,000 people across the nation.
“As these [Panera Cares] cafes are reaching a level of sustainability – being able to cover all their direct costs like rent, utilities, food, people – with some extra left over at the end of month,” she said. “We take those funds and develop job-training programs for at-risk youth in the community.”
Four graduates of the first program in St. Louis are now employed at other Panera sites, she said. The Portland store will have its first graduates in a few weeks.
Panera Bread Co. operates more than 1,540 restaurants under the Panera Bread, St. Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café brands.