Panera Cares closes shop

Pay-what-you-want cafes became a ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) project for Panera Bread. This experiment in pay-it-forward-giving lasted for several years.

I’m quite familiar with Karma Kitchen in Berkeley — as a volunteer and customer. The volunteer-based Karma Kitchen continues to scale around the world. It’s a much smaller project from a financial perspective, but continues to thrive based on strong awareness within the communities it serves.

Nonetheless, the case study about Panera Bread’s failed experiment is worth reading. Human generosity goes a long way when nonprofit and for-profit motives don’t get commingled. The marketing was pretty good, but the execution was poor.

I wanted Panera Cares to succeed, but I just couldn’t see it becoming a full-fledged business model. I hope Ron Shaich and Panera Bread continue to support similar causes. This is the type of ‘CSR’ strategy needed in boardrooms.