The last remaining cafe in Panera’s experiment to help feed people dealing with food insecurity is set to close.
Panera Cares in a non-profit organization that operates on a pay-what-you-can model. Panera Cares cafes provide suggested donation amounts for all menu items to help customers understand the cost of “paying it forward” and helping people who struggle with food insecurity.
According to the Panera Cares mission, their community cafes are designed to help raise awareness about the pervasive problem of food insecurity in the United States.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 49 million people – including 16 million children – are food insecure. This means that one in seven households struggle to provide enough food for everyone at some time during the year.
Feeding America reports that there are 652,760 people struggling with hunger. Of them, 167,450 are children.
The funds collected at Panera Cares are used to cover the operating costs while covering the cost of the meals for those who come in and can’t contribute the suggested donation amount for their meals.
Edward Ruddy, a Panera Bread employee, said that the Panera Bread Foundation and the Boston team have been humbled by the community members who have embraced the mission to help fight food insecurity and supported the Boston Panera Cares community cafe.
“Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable,” Ruddy said in a statement. “Panera remains dedicated to our other long-term philanthropic programs, like Day-End Dough-Nation, which donates $100 million worth of retail goods annually to feed those in need nationwide.”
Ruddy would not comment further on why the location was closing and how the community would be affected.
One marketing professor, speaking in an NPR report earlier this year, claimed that the restaurants failed to attract enough generous customers who were willing to dine with the food insecure. She added that pay-what-you can menus work best when there are no prices listed, encouraging people to be more generous rather than follow the suggested price.
The location is set to close February 15.
“We’re working with the current bakery-café associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain,” said Ruddy. “Panera is committed to ensuring a smooth transition for all associates.”