Tag Archives: Panera Cares


In light of the lopsided examples of greed and social misconduct, corporations doing good works may sound like an oxymoron. Unlike Santa and M & M’s with feet, corporations understanding their social responsibility do exist.

Corporate altruism can range from donating a percentage of product purchases, to corporate earmarks for community contributions, to matching employee charitable contributions, to charities selected by the company, to allowing employees to volunteer time to serve their communities.  However, there is no more ongoing tangible example of good works than restaurant programs feeding the financially challenged and the hungry.

Denise Cerreta pioneered the first pay-as-you-can restaurant in Salt Lake City, UT almost a decade ago. Her One World Everyone Eats Foundation mentors several other restaurants in this mission.

The Better World Café in Highland Park, NJ follows Cerreta’s example by feeding the hungry in a sustainable way—by using locally grown food, with an emphasis on healthy fare. Meal costs are still based upon what each patron can afford, with an encouragement to pay more than the suggested price if they can to help feed even more. Diners may also volunteer in exchange for a meal. If they cannot pay anything or volunteer, the café offer a complimentary dish of the day for free.

Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, NJ provides two ways to pay also. The menus list no prices, as they only accept donations. If a customer can’t donate, the restaurant accepts volunteer work from patrons in exchange for a meal.

Three women in El Paso, TX work to open a similar venture.  At the Mustard Seed Community Cafépeople also pay what they can or work in the kitchen as payment.

Customers at a non-profit coffee shop in Knoxville, The Living Room, enjoy coffee and/or a meal for the suggested prices or nothing. Whatever they can, or cannot, afford.

Café 180 in Englewood, CO, a suburb of Denver, lets customers pay what they can for pizza, salads, soups, and similar. One of the owners also runs an organic dough company so this is no grocery store pizza. Similar restaurants in the Denver area include So All May Eat (SAME) Café and Comfort Café.

Every pay-as-you-can (PAYC) restaurant lists suggested prices; some accept whatever the customer decides to pay, while others take service in kind for all, or part, of the meal. It seems to work well at all the ventures. At the Panera Cares restaurants, for instance, they find that 60% of the customers at their three PAYC’s pay the full suggested price. 20% pay even more; and 20% pay less or nothing.  Panera Cares’ has three locations: Clayton, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan; and Portland Oregon. They have donation boxes/baskets at these restaurant’s rather than cash registers. Overall, doing well enough to cover costs, with money left over for a job training program for at-risk youths.

Table Grace Cafe‘s <> mission for customers in Omaha, NE:  “foster a healthy community by offering great food prepared and served in a graceful manner to anyone who walks through the door.” They also serve gourmet pizza, salad and soup. This restaurant also has an internship program and job placement service.

Worth Our Weight, a cafe in Santa Rosa, CA, also offers a little extra. This cafe provides culinary apprenticeships to young people, aged 16-24 who have faced major challenges in their lives. Note it’s only open on weekends. Karma Kitchen franchises, such as Taste of Himalayas Restaurant in Berkeley, CA, serve a generous Sunday lunch and the check is always zero. Karma only requests patrons to pay it forward: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.” Karma Kitchen also operates locations in Washington, D.C. (White Tiger Restaurant)and Chicago, IL (Klay Oven Restaurant). 

While Potager’s in Arlington, TX doesn’t offer free meals, its philosophy: “ask for only as much as you can eat and pay what you feel it was worth”. They also specialize in sustainable and organic foods.  Check out how they’d like to change how America consumes and enjoys food here.

You can search for a PAYC restaurant near you on the OneWorld site here.

If you know someone in need in these locations, send them this post or tell them about the restaurant nearest to them. If you live in any of these areas, consider patronizing these restaurants and paying a little more than the suggested prices. Go there with a group.  Make it a bi-weekly event.

And if you temporarily need a hand,  these places will welcome you–with good food and a joyful spirit.

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.                                                        

If you’ve made some contribution to someone else, to improve their life, and make their life a little more livable, a little more happy, I think that’s what you should be doing.” Reagan, by contrast, argued, “Each man must find his own salvation . . . every man to be what God intended him to be.”  ― Robert F. Kennedy



©2012 DLewis

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