Imagine walking into a Panera Bread and picking out anything you wanted to eat or drink — then, at the end of the line, instead of handing your money to a cashier, you faced a donation box.
What would you do if you knew that some of the money you placed in the box would be used to train at-risk youths or to feed folks lacking funds to feed themselves?
That’s what Panera Bread is trying to find out this week in an outside-the-box experiment in St. Louis. It’s a concept that has never been tested by a restaurant chain — and that marks a new career for Ron Shaich, who stepped down as Panera’s CEO last week.
“I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about,” says Shaich, 56, who has converted a former Panera-owned restaurant in an urban area of St. Louis into a non-profit restaurant dubbed Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Cafe. (Similar cafes planned outside of the St. Louis area will be called Panera Cares Cafes. Panera was founded in St. Louis and still brands its restaurants there as St. Louis Bread Company.)