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Panera Cares

The Panera Bread Company has been making headlines with its Panera Cares Cafés, an experiment in outreach to the needy of inner cities.  The first two Panera Cafés, in Detroit and St. Louis, offering menus similar to any other Panera Restaurant, pledged to serve meals to anyone who was hungry, regardless of the ability to pay, asking only a free-will donation.
In the first two cities, the free-will offering produced about 80% of the revenue a regular Panera restaurant would bring in.  That enabled the cafés to cover expenses, including salaries paid to the unemployed inner-city youth the company hired to run them.  The third store, in Portland, Oregon, proved a disappointment.  That store brought in only about 60% of typical restaurant revenue.
Company founder Ron Shaich spent some time behind the counter of the Portland store, and also spoke to a number of the patrons.  He spoke of “a palpable sense of people in pain” in that location.  He also noted an attitude he labeled “a sense of entitlement” that he didn’t see in Detroit or St. Louis.
Other patrons complained of a significant number of people with obvious mental-health or addiction problems who simply camped out in the Panera Cares café all day long.  They seemed to treat it almost as a place to live, rather than a place to come for an occasional bit of extra help.  Some seemed to have brought all their belongings with them.
“We had to help them understand that this is a café of shared responsibility and not a handout,” Mr. Shaich told a newspaper reporter. “It can’t serve as a shelter and we can’t have community organizations sending everybody down.”
The difference, it seems, is shared responsibility.  In a one-sided transaction characterized by dependency, no one is helped much.  Yet, when a meal is truly shared in every respect, all benefit.