Chicago gets fourth Panera Cares cafe

Chicago is joining Dearborn, Mich., Clayton, Mo., and Portland, Ore., as cities featuring a Panera Cares Community Cafe. The company is turning its Chicago location on Diversey Parkway into the Panera Cares pay-what-can model.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Panera Bread founder and co-CEO Ron Shaich said the Lakeview location has particular significance because he wrote the company's mission statement there.

From the story:

"Chicago is a very important market for us," Shaich said, adding that the company has more than 100 locations in the area, and co-CEO William Moreton lives in Hinsdale. "We've had a lot of success here."

He added that the Lakeview location is ideal for a community store because there are "million-dollar townhomes and people on the street," meaning there are customers who can help support the cafe and those who can benefit from a free meal.

The first Panera Cares cafe opened in Clayton, Mo., in 2010. The second and third locations, in Dearborn and Portland, respectively, opened in 2011.

The model has been surprisingly successful. According to statistics from the Panera Bread Foundation, which operates the non-profit cafes, 60 percent of cafe customers pay in full while 20 percent pay more, and another 20 percent pay less or nothing.

Shaich said what makes the concept work is operational transparency.

"We call this café a shared responsibility. This is our gift to the community and the community’s responsibility is to take care of each other. It’s not a hand out and it’s not a soup kitchen. It’s a hand up," he said in a 2011 interview with FastCasual.com. (Read also, Ron Shaich: The accidental philanthropist.)

"Assuming the community is willing to support it, we use the revenue for direct programming to support groups like the Covenant House. But I think the key to this is transparency. People have to understand where the money is going and why and how it adds to their community."

In addition to opening its latest Panera Cares cafe, the company is expanding in Manhattan through traditional-store locations.

Panera Bread has opened its third location in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue between 39th and 40th streets.

In the coming months, the company plans to open an additional bakery-cafe located in Union Square. Panera Bread currently operates more than 90 bakery-cafes in the Tri-State area.

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