BOSTON (CBS) – The new Panera Cares Cafe looks like any other Panera Bread restaurant, except for the donation boxes.
The new non-profit “community cafe” opened Wednesday across from City Hall.
There are suggested prices for food and drink but you pay what you can afford.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Carl Stevens reports
If a customer can’t afford a meal, they can volunteer and get a food voucher.
“We wanted to offer the full Panera experience, and the same Panera food and the same Panera environment,” project manager Kate Antonacci said.
Boston’s Panera Cares is the fifth like it in the country.
“I think this is fabulous,” one customer told WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Carl Stevens. That customer paid extra for a souffle and mocha latte. “It’s a great place for people to come get warm, get something to eat, get something to drink.”
Other Panera non-profit restaurants are currently operating in Michigan, Illinois, Oregon and Missouri.
Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich tells WBZ his company has contributed product and cash worth as much as $150 million a year, but he felt disconnected.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Anthony Silva reports
Shaich says Panera Cares is modeled after a non-profit in the Midwest that he heard about.
“There were no set prices,” he tells WBZ, “it was a gift to the community.”
He says it was the responsibility of the people who went there to take care of each other. Shaich says he decided that this was something Panera could do, and should do.
Shaich says the non-profit generates about 75% of the retail value of the food served, and 60% of its patrons give the suggested donation, or even pay more.
He says the non-profit cafe has two goals. The first is to raise awareness about food insecurity. The second is to give those who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from a sense of dignity.
He says part of what he’s trying to do is to get other companies to do more than “just write the check,” to use their skills to make a difference. Shaich asks, “Can you imagine a world where The Gap ran not just retail stores, but also was involved in thrift shops?”
Shaich says the Panera Cares community cafe is a powerful study in humanity.