By Christopher Leonard
updated 5:32 p.m. CT, Tues., May 18, 2010
CLAYTON, Mo. – Panera Bread Co. is asking customers at a new restaurant to pay what they want.
The national bakery and restaurant chain launched a new nonprofit store here this week that has the same menu as its other 1,400 locations. But the prices are a little different — there aren’t any. Customers are told to donate what they want for a meal, whether it’s the full suggested price, a penny or $100.
The new store in the upscale St. Louis suburb of Clayton is the first of what Panera hopes will be many around the country. Ronald Shaich, Panera’s CEO until last week, was on hand at the new bakery Monday to explain the system to customers.
The pilot restaurant is run by a nonprofit foundation. If it can sustain itself financially, Panera will expand the model around the country within months. It all depends on whether customers will abide by the motto that hangs above the deli counter: “Take what you need, leave your fair share.”
Panera hopes to open a similar location in every community where it operates. Other nonprofits have opened community kitchens, where customers set the price, and the idea has spread among food enthusiasts and philanthropists. But Panera brings new scale to the idea — its community restaurants will use the company’s distribution system and have access to its national food suppliers.
The first location bears the name St. Louis Bread Co. Cares — the chain’s former name and one it still uses in its hometown. Customers seemed alternately puzzled and pleased by the concept.
Dawn Frierdich, 52, came in to buy three loaves of bread and an iced tea. She asked how much the drink would cost.
“About $1.85,” said the 21-year-old cashier, Michael Miller.
And the whole order?
Quotes delayed 15+ min.
I think think this is amazing. I think for the good of people this really does work.