What We Do

What do we do at Panera Cares® community cafes? We feed people. We uplift. We restore dignity. We make you feel welcome. We fill bellies AND self-esteem. We care.

Why do we do this? Because we believe that everyone deserves a dignified dining experience in an uplifting environment regardless of their means. It’s as simple as that. This is our way of sharing in the responsibility and making a difference in the world we all share.


  • Why do Panera Cares community cafes exist?

    Panera Cares community cafes were created, very simply, to make a difference. These community cafes were created as a way to help address the ever-worsening epidemic of food insecurity (hunger) in the U.S. One in six people – or 15% of U.S. households – is hungry today. 1 in 4 U.S. children – or 17 million kids – do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. Panera Cares community cafes, donation-based nonprofit cafes of shared responsibility, are designed to help address hunger while also maintaining a person’s dignity.

  • When did the program begin and how long has it been operating?

    Discussions about creating a solution to food insecurity in the summer of 2009. Nine months later, The Panera Bread Foundation opened its first Panera Cares community cafe – our answer to this epidemic. The first location opened on May 16, 2010 in Clayton, MO. Since then, we have opened 2 additional community cafes – one in Dearborn, MI on November 21, 2010 and another in Portland, OR on January 16, 2011. At least two additional Panera Cares locations are expected to open in 2012. These cafes are operated by the Panera Bread Foundation, a separate Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity.

  • How do these cafes work?

    Panera Cares community cafes exist to make a difference by offering the Panera experience with dignity to all in our community…those who can afford it, those who need a hand up and everyone in between. Panera Cares was designed to offer an experience that feeds the belly and feeds the soul. We seek to help uplift those who are struggling with food insecurity.

    This nonprofit concept was designed to make the “Panera” experience accessible to everyone regardless of their means. Panera Cares Cafes do not have prices. Instead, we provide suggested donation amounts to help customers understand what it will take for us to operate these cafes and be self-sufficient. In the end, it is up to the customer to decide what to contribute into our donation bins. Those without any means to contribute have the option of donating an hour of their time to volunteering in our cafes in exchange for a meal. In the end, our non-profit cafes can only survive if our communities support its mission and one another.

  • How are these cafes doing?

    In 2011, we served over 500,000 people at our Panera Cares cafes. A goal of each Panera Cares cafe is to be self-sustaining – meaning that they generate enough donations to cover their direct costs. Currently, we bring in about 70-75% of what would otherwise be the retail value of the food. To achieve this number, we estimate that 60% of people leave the suggested donation, 15-20% leave more and 15-20% leave less or nothing.

    As well, because of our impact and relationships within the communities we serve, we have been able to launch a job training internship and have already graduated dozens of youth (who are now working members of society).

  • How do you choose your locations?

    We look for economically diverse neighborhoods that are accessible to people from all walks of life. In order for these cafes to sustain, we need to be accessible to folks who can contribute to our cafe while also being accessible to those people who are in need of a meal today. We look for locations that are on public transit lines and have a mix of residential and business populations.

  • Where does the money go?

    One of our primary goals is for each Panera Cares community cafe to be self-sustaining. That means that each cafe needs to generate enough donations to cover all of the direct operating costs (food, labor, rent, utilities, etc.). We must do so while also covering the cost of food for people who come in and are unable to pay for a meal on their own.

    Another goal of Panera Cares community cafes is to leverage our other core competencies (our space, our people, our time) to make an even bigger impact in the communities in which we operate. One way we have done this is through the creation of direct programming, such as a job training internship for at-risk youth.

  • What is the volunteer option?

    When we opened our first Panera Cares community cafe, we quickly realized that many people wanted to contribute to our cause even if they were unable to do so monetarily. So we created a way for people to give and become part of our community even if they could not give through our donation bin. If a customer is unable to leave a monetary contribution, we offer the option of volunteering one hour of time to working in our cafe in exchange for a meal. This allows everyone to share in the responsibility of operating Panera Cares community cafes and do their part to impact our sustainability.

  • What does ‘suggested donation’ mean?

    We list suggested donation amounts on our menu boards to give customers an idea of what the food would be priced at a Panera bakery cafe location. The suggested donation amount is the value of the meal and we want our guests to know what the food is worth. However, Panera Cares community cafes have no set prices. You can leave more or less…it’s up to you. If you’re able, we ask you to leave the suggested donation amount or more to help cover someone else who may not be able to donate for their meal today.

  • Can I leave my donation with a credit card?

    Yes, the associate taking your order will tell you your suggested donation amount and you are able to use a credit card to leave a donation. You may leave the suggested amount or more if you are able and would like to help share a meal with someone else today.

  • Do I have to leave money?

    No, you do not, but since we are a non-profit, self-sustaining operation we need you to help keep us afloat. That said, if you cannot leave any money today, that’s okay with us. You may volunteer an hour of your time in exchange for a meal if you so desire.

  • Why do I have to donate more?

    You do not have to donate more. We simply ask that you leave what you can to support our work. If you’re able to contribute a bit more, know that that will help feed those who come in to these community cafes and are unable to leave a donation for their food. Our ultimate goal is to be self-sustaining cafes that can continue to operate as a resource in your community. And every penny counts!

  • Is there sales tax?

    No. There is no sales tax applied to guest donations.

  • Do Panera Cares community cafes offer free Wi-Fi?

    Yes. Panera Cares community cafes should feel much the same as any Panera Bread bakery cafe and free WiFi is still part of the experience!