Can breakfast, lunch and bread equal dough for a good cause?

by Ashley Kasprzak, JVA Consulting

Panera Bread Company has wonderful scones, sandwiches and atmosphere. The thriving     restaurant chain also has a good track record of charitable giving, which includes donating unsold food to local food banks and charities. Now the Panera Bread Foundation has set up a store in their hometown of St. Louis where patrons pay what they want, and the tagline is “Take what you need, leave your fair share.”

At St. Louis Bread Company Cares, Panera’s new venture, a customer recently interviewed said that she was having a hard time getting her mind around the concept of pay what you can. She brought three loaves of bread and one ice tea to the counter. The cashier told her it would be $1.12. The customer paused and asked, “Is that the whole bill?” The cashier explained it would be over $12 in a regular Panera. When the customer paid with cash, the cashier instructed her to put anything over the hard costs into a donation jar next to the register.

The pay-what-you-can concept is a spectacular idea! Although a similar concept was featured a few weeks ago on Celebrity Apprentice, it seems to be the first time that a national corporation has done this. It’s too early to tell if it will work on a large scale; the parent company has indicated that it will not cover any losses. If customers don’t want to give money, or cannot, they’re asked to give time — volunteering to help at-risk youth in the area.

Marcia Stepaneck, editor of, recently interviewed founder Ronald Shaich, who said, “I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about.” Formerly the CEO of Panera, Shaich went on to say, “I’ve dreamed of doing something like this for years.” If the nonprofit store can sustain itself financially then Shaich says he will move to open up more such pay-what-you-want stores in every community where Panera now operates its for-profit kitchens. With 27 locations in Colorado, we could potentially see a model open up out West.

In Denver, a similar model has been thriving for four years—contrary to business analysts’ projections. The SAME restaurant name is an acronym for So All May Eat. Owners Brad and Libby Birkys hope they can make a difference to all who walk through the door, whether it is a person seeking help or a person seeking to help. To further its efforts, SAME has partnered with both Work Options for Women and Colorado Work Force.

I’ve wanted to visit SAME Cafe since it opened. This week I am going: Thursday, May 27 for lunch at 2023 E. Colfax Avenue in Denver. Here’s the menu to choose from if you’re in Denver and want to join me:

  • Green chili
  • Vegetable soup
  • Pear, arugula and bleu cheese salad
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Bacon cheeseburger pizza
  • Spinach and feta pizza

Before heading out, I better get some green dough to put into their donation box!

JVA Consulting loves the “pay-what-you-can” concept so much that we are incorporating it into one of our upcoming workshops, where attendees will pay based on their ability and the value of the training. On June 8, JVA will host How to Engage Donors, Ask for Money and Secure a Sustainable Future—an interactive workshop to walk you through proven, effective methods that any person can use to engage people with your organization. For more information and to register online for this “pay-what-you-want” workshop, click here.


This entry was posted in Commentary, Community, Food drive, Hunger/food insecurity, Trends and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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