A Panera Bread restaurant in St. Louis is promoting a “pay-what-you-want” method for a bowl of turkey chili. The initial cost will only be a penny, but you can spend more if you wish.
Three years after the company launched the first of five pay-what-you-want cafes, the suburban St. Louis-based chain on Wednesday began its latest charitable venture that takes the concept on a trial run to all 48 cafes in the St. Louis region.
The new idea experiments with a single menu item, Turkey Chili in a Bread Bowl, available at each St. Louis-area store. The new chili uses all-natural, antibiotic-free turkey mixed with vegetables and beans in a sourdough bread bowl, and has a suggested $5.89 price, which includes tax and is only a guideline. All other menu items are sold for the posted price.
Panera calls it the Meal of Shared Responsibility and says the potential benefit is twofold: Above-the-cost proceeds go to cover meals for customers who cannot pay the full amount and to St. Louis-area hunger initiatives; and for those in need, the 850-calorie meal provides nearly a day’s worth of nutrition at whatever price they can afford.
“We are launching the Meal of Shared Responsibility because we know that one in six Americans – over 50 million people nationwide – are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” said Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and co-CEO of the chain and president of its charitable arm, Panera Bread Foundation.
“We hope the suggested donations offset those who say they only have three bucks in their pocket or leave nothing,” said Shaich.
If the experiment works in St. Louis, it could be expanded to some or all of the chain’s 1,600 bakery-cafes across the country, though Shaich said there is no guarantee and no timetable for a decision.
Panera has long been involved in anti-hunger efforts, starting with its Operation Dough-Nation program that has donated tens of millions of dollars in unsold baked goods.
The first pay-what-you-want Panera Cares cafe opened in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton in 2010 and others followed in Detroit, Portland, Ore., Chicago and Boston.
Kate Antonacci of Panera Bread Foundation said roughly 60 percent of customers pay the suggested retail price. The rest are about evenly split between those who pay more and those who pay less.