Panera Bread has established a new "Pay-What-You-Want" venture that is dependent on the hearts of their customers. Starting in St. Louis, a bowl of chili at the café will cost you as much heart as you are willing to give.
The "Pay-What-You-Want" concept, which was previously introduced in select restaurants, was extended on Wednesday to include all 48 Panera Breads in St. Louis- the birthplace of the café. The first Panera was established in 1981. It's mission: "A loaf a bread in every arm."
But it appears that mission has since been extended upon. Calling it the "Meal of Shared Responsibility," Panera has added to its menu a turkey chili soup that is served up in one of its famous sourdough bread bowls. The turkey is all-natural, antibiotic-free and mixed with vegetables and beans- an altogether heart healthy meal worth a full day's worth of calories.
The suggested price of the soup is $5.89, but what makes it special is that customers can also opt to pay nothing.
"We hope the suggested donations offset those who say they only have three bucks in their pocket or leave nothing," Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and co-CEO of the chain and president of its charitable arm, Panera Bread Foundation, told the Associated Press.
The first pay-what-you-want café was opened in Clayton, St. Louis in 2010. Four others have opened since including one in Boston and one in Portland, Oregon. Thus far, those stores have still been able to turn over a profit, according to Shaich. Those proceeds go to a job training program.
"We don't want this to be self-serving," Shaich said. "We want to make this an intellectually honest program of integrity."
And despite cynics, Shaich is standing by the café's plan.
"A lot of cynics think Americans are just gaming the system," Shaich said. "Our experience is very different. People do the right thing and are willing to take care of each other."