CEO Amy Watson asks Kelly Williamson, Director of Media Relations, to share her favorite restaurant charity.

When I was in high school, I waited with anticipation for the Panera Bread Company to open in my neighborhood-shopping complex. The location was within walking distance, and once it opened, the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel became one of my favorite treats. The interesting thing about the Panera’s location was that it was so close to my house that I passed the store often. On a number of occasions, I began to see something that I found confusing.  People would come to the store, right before the store closed, and carry out bags and bags of bread, bagels, and pastries, loading them into the trunks of several cars. I inquired about it at the store and they explained that the people were members of a local charity. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was seeing the work of just one of Panera’s many charitable contributions.

panera cares profile

Panera has a number of charitable programs it operates. I’m going to focus on three of them.

Community Breadbox

Community Breadbox is a program that collects money from patrons of Panera and then ensures that a percentage of the money will be matched by Panera, and fed back into the community. They emphasize that the money will stay in the local community in which it was collected.

community breadbox

Day End Dough-Nation

Operation DoughnationThe Program I witnessed when I saw the people collect the pastries and bread at the end of the night was “Day End Dough-Nation.” At the end of every day, Panera Bread donates all unsold bread and baked goods to local hunger relief agencies and charities. This equates to a tremendous amount being given to local agencies every year. Most estimates put the retail amount at about $100 million, although some estimates are higher. Many of these charities work in conjunction with Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

Panera Cares®

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 9.58.35 AM

Several years ago, while traveling I read an article in USA Today about a new endeavor for Panera. A large corporation’s ability to see past monetary gain, and into a bigger cause struck me. They had opened several cafes that didn’t have cash registers at the end of the line, or large signs listing prices. These cafes were simply “pay what you can.” Looking at the Panera Cares® website their mission states this: “Panera Cares® community cafes exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regardless of their means.”  Watching a video of Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera, speak at the St. Louis TED conference (Technology Entertainment Design), you begin to understand how the idea came to fruition (the video is admittedly long, but worth viewing). Shaich details the research that went into making sure that this café gave dignity to its patrons’: from waiting in a soup kitchen line to visiting other café’s of a similar type. It was very important that they gave the full Panera Dining experience, including the full menu, store design, and even include Wi-Fi. Placement for these café’s is important, needing a place that has access to wealthier clientele, in addition to those who can really benefit from the service.  If you don’t have the money to donate, you can volunteer for an hour, in exchange for your meal. The stores serve another purpose other than to feed the community, working with groups like Angel Arms, they give 12-14 week internships to at-risk youths, giving them needed job skills.


The answer to this experiment: 60% leave about the retail amount, 20% leave more than the retail amount, and 20% leave no money, or under the retail amount. This month Panera Cares® is about to open it’s fifth location, the first in Boston at the Government Center. Other existing locations include Missouri, Oregon, Michigan, and Illinois. I can’t wait to visit one of the locations. Just think what we could accomplish if more companies followed Panera’s lead and didn’t simply give donations, but initiate real change.panera cares pie chart

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