Non-profit, Pay-what-you-wish at Dearborn’s Panera

Pay-what-you-wish is expected to soon begin at Dearborn's Panera.

Dearborn’s Panera will soon become one of the company’s nonprofit restaurants where customers pay-what-you wish.

Panera, which operates 1,400 franchised and corporate-owned bakery-cafes across the country, opened its first pay what you wish restaurant in Clayton, Mo., earlier this year.

Dearborn is now preparing to join this small non-profit experiment and will now be called Panera Cares.

We aren’t sure what to make of this move but some employees at the Dearborn Panera aren’t happy with the switch. Perhaps worth noting is that in the first experiment of pay-what-you-wish, nearly all baked goods were day-old from other stores. We are not sure how that will sit here in Dearborn.

In Clayton, cashiers tell customers their orders’ “suggested” price based on the menu. About 60% to 70% pay in full, Panera says. About 15% leave a little more and another 15% pay less, or nothing at all. A handful have left big donations, like $20 for a cup of coffee.

Panera’s Clayton store is run under the company’s St. Louis Bread Co. banner by a nonprofit organization called Panera Cares that publicly traded Panera Co. supports. But Panera won’t bear the nonprofit’s losses if the experiment fails. In an earlier story, Panera said the nonprofit is considering locations that, like Clayton, are upscale but accessible to lower-income customers. In Clayton’s case, St. Louis County’s offices and court house are nearby.

An earlier news article said “The Clayton Panera has hardly turned into a soup kitchen. Its longtime business clientele kept the lunch hour busy last week, with well-dressed workers clustered around laptops and talking on cellphones.”

To control freeloaders in the Clayton store, signs remind customers that “You’re on your honor.”

If it moves forward in Dearborn, it should be an interesting experiment. welcomes your views and encourages lively -- but civil -- discussions. Comments are unedited, but submissions reported as abusive may be removed.

41 Responses to “Non-profit, Pay-what-you-wish at Dearborn’s Panera”

  1. justasking says:

    If this is a non-profit operation, does that mean they won’t be paying property taxes to the city of Dearborn?

    If so, how can this be a good development outside of one less vacant building in west Dearborn.

  2. BARR says:

    I like Pineras the way it is. I pay a little more and like the atmosphere and the the friends I have made there, including the employees. Change is good when people have input and knowledge beforehand. As far as I know, no one told the City, consumers or the community about this experiment. When you open your door, you want to know who is coming inside. The Dearborn community had no say who comes into their home. Will I continue to shop there? Who knows? But we, ciitizens, consumers and city deserve better. But, I do hope this works out for our great city, regardless…..

  3. cacao72 says:

    Not too sure about this idea. I think there will be too many druggies and alcoholics hanging around for food and warmth. I’ve already seen people steal money form the fountain by Starbucks in broad daylight. How will employees be paid? I’m guessing that the food will not be as fresh or handled properly as the vagrants move in. I’ll go to the paying places and let the soup kitchens feed the needy. So many will take advantage of this.

  4. 48124 says:

    Will every broad still take 20 minutes to decide what they want, acting like it s the 1st time they’ve stepped into the damn place???

  5. Hmmm... says:

    Interesting…..I wonder if other retail establishments like party stores will be selling day old Panera stuff as “new” on their shelves?

  6. Reality bits says:

    This is the stupidest idea in a very long time. Trust me that is saying alot. How far can fake progressivism go? Please try this in Portland or San Fran. Dearborn is not a science project.

  7. kay says:

    This is a mess!!! Too bad, I enjoyed Panera’s. I’ll be going elsewhere. If I want day-old, I’ll eat at home. When will the people of Dearborn not have to put up with second-hand everything. Now it’s food!!

  8. Flyonthewall says:

    Well this is interesting, does this mean Hakim doesn’t have to pay taxes on his non profit property now (Panera Bread). And just what we need is more non profit buildings in Dearborn, the Atrium on Mason will not being paying taxes because they are non profit. How much longer before we beg for money from non profit to pay our city services like Mt Clemens or bankrupt like Hamtramck. If you think your leaf progaram is a head ache wait till it snows. Atrium to be a Mosque and Community Center?

  9. cloe says:

    With the economy the way it is, almost every business is now non-profit.

    I wonder if the city would let them all stop paying taxes? Maybe, they should all file that way and see what happens.

    People were willing to pay for parking for Panera Bread. Will they still pay for day old food?

  10. justasking says:

    Does the new technical school at the former Davenport University site also have a non-profit status?

  11. Traveler says:

    I spent a week in Clayton last summer and visited the Panera once. Before I walked in, I was unaware of the ‘experiment’ it was running as a pay-as-you-please bakeshop. After I placed my order, I was handed a cash register receipt and told that this was the ‘suggested’ price but I could pay whatever I wanted into a Plexiglas box on the counter. The place was busy, as it is only a block from the courthouse and several office buildings. After I put my money in the box and walked away with my beverage and bagel, I noticed the neighboring cafes and restaurants had large, foam-core blowups of newspaper articles about the Panera ‘experiment’ hanging in their front windows. One decades-old coffee shop (Think Mercury Diner) had a handlettered sign asking for patrons to remember their longstanding local businesses. From this I surmised that there was a fair amount of dismay and discontent from those independent businesses who can’t afford to give away their goods. Needless to say, I never set foot in the Panera for the rest of my visit, and instead patronized the businesses that were in place long before Panera came to Clayton. Don’t get me wrong; I like Panera and am glad we have a place in the heart of West Dearborn where I can buy fresh-baked bread and buy soup and a sandwich. But I think if they want to give away food, they could easily find numerous neighborhoods in metro Detroit where poverty and hunger are realities and Panera’s charity won’t place a hardship on neighboring businesses.

  12. milan says:

    I can’t stand the place because of all the has-been politicians like Dingell, Polidori, and Debbie Dingell wearing her glasses on her head for effect, which just show she is nothing but pompous. Now maybe the people walking Michigan Ave. will have a place to go instead of seeing the old hack politicians, who like being seen there, however, they never cross the counter with money, tats why they seem to go there, because its FREE. wELCOME NEWCOMERS NOW MAYBE WE WILL HAVE A NICER GROUP OF PEOPLE, WHO INCIDENTALLY WILL PAY FOR THEIR ORDER, AND TIP THE WORKERS.

  13. Johnny Christmas says:

    So Reality Bites: Let me get this straight. You think this plan is “fake progressivism?” I see. So the government offering assistance to the poor is decried as “socialism” and “redistributing the wealth.” And a corporation establishing a non-profit to offer assistance to the poor is “fake progressivism?” Then who, pray tell, is supposed to help the poor in your world? Not governments, not corporations, not non-profits…God help you if you ever find yourself in poverty.

    I suspect most of the outrage against this idea is the fear of poor and non-white people invading our precious city. Well here’s a newsflash: We have non-whites and poor people living here already. They need to eat too, and if the fact that you’re “forced” to eat day-old bread means the poor have some place to eat with dignity, then so be it. I will be supporting this place every chance I get.

  14. Michael D. Albano says:

    The big questions that I have with this are why is Panera in Dearborn doing this? Is their west downtown Dearborn location not profitable?

    I’m also wondering if Deep or someone could expand on this comment from the article: “But Panera won’t bear the nonprofit’s losses if the experiment fails.”

    None of this makes any sense to me, but it might make sense if they were putting it in Detroit, Pontiac or some other poor city. Why DTWD?

  15. David says:

    This will change the clientele at Panera’s for sure.

  16. marge says:

    This is not a good business idea for Dearborn. One way to discourage such a practice is to go to Panera, order and leave nothing. They won’t continue for long.

  17. Rob Byrnes says:

    How charming my fellow residents are. Save me your paranoia and thinly-veiled racism.

  18. Kla says:

    this is just what our city doesn’t need, love that Panera thinks so highly of our city. I will now be giving my business to the the Allen Park location which is sad that I have to leave my city. What are you thinking Panera?

  19. cloe says:

    I really do believe that Panera has been losing money for a long time.

    People will travel to Allen Park instead of paying for parking. It’s how people are.
    Most people like to do more than one thing when they are out of the house. They can shop in Allen Park and then go eat. There is a lot to do and, as always, the parking is free.

    Maybe, it is time for the city to admit that paid parking in an area that has very little to offer is not a good idea.

    Being stubborn is not helping the situation.

  20. sandy says:

    I agree…this should be an interesting experiment. Some time ago, I read about their experiment in Clayton, in Time Magazine. The article noted how some local businesses were upset about this. I agree that small businesses probably cannot afford to run things this way. I also think it’s neat that Panera is tapping into newer business models that are starting to marry profit making enterprises with social ventures. I like the Think Michigan and like to purchase locally produced food when possible. I wish I had more options to buy goods produced here in michigan. This could also be Panera’s way of tapping into a group of people who want their purchases to reflect and affect more than the tangible goods.

    I’d be suprised if Panera doesn’t have ongoing research on this business model. It’s been years since I’ve gone to a Panera Bread, but I’m tempted to go, now, if they implement this. So, maybe this is also a way of generating new business? Frankly, it is possible that there are people who live in Dearborn and don’t go to Panera too. The only thing I am worried about is being too generous, and paying too much for a bad product.

  21. Not Happy says:

    this will be another empty store front in Dearborn, and I am not crazy about “at risk” teenagers making my food this isn’t fair to other businesses in the area either. Dearborn is not a “poor” community this will attract homeless people next thing we know they will be bused in for free food once they catch wind they can eat for free. I think this would great in downtown Detroit, Chicago etc.

  22. Flyonthewall says:

    To “Not Happy” Give me a break, you can’t be serious!

  23. April Kersey says:

    Okay, I work at the panera cares in Dearborn Mi. We open tomarrow and we are on fire for the switch. This switch means nothing but great things for the community! The fereshly baked yesterday goods are only in the bakery section and taste exactly the same, dont belive us, let us give you a sample. We want you to taste our product before you donate for it. Our store is still held to the same standards. We only give product to our customers what is quality! The bread that your sandwhichs are on is freash baked daily and the food is all the same. We enocurage those with the means to pay at least suggested donation level, to do so and if you cant, well thats okay too. thats what we are here for. its not a hand out its a hand up. We open tomarrow – Sunday. Come see us. We’ll show you what were all about.

  24. Dearbornette says:

    Thanks for the info April. I am willing to give it a shot, like Johnny.

  25. Rachel Sleger says:

    I am also a worker at the Panera Cares in Dearborn, MI. This is something that is great and exciting! Everyone should be happy for this change because that’s exactly what we are doing…we are making a change. We are helping others who are in need and also still here for those regular customers that come in every morning to order their bagel with cream cheese and coffee before work. Panera is all about warmth. We want everyone to feel welcome. As April stated above, if you are at all concerned about the quality of our bakery items or cafe items everyone in the bakery cafe is more than willing to open their arms and answer any questions or hand out samples to ensure our product tastes no different. Our sandwiches are made on baked fresh daily bread along with the baguettes we serve as a side with any entree. The product is to the same standards as before. Our bakery section is baked fresh yesterday items. Our grand reopening is tomorrow Sunday, November 21! We encourage everyone to stop in to learn a bit more of what we are about and support our non-profit community cafe.

  26. Proud to live here says:

    “This will change the clientele at Panera’s for sure.” (Oh no, minorities might come!)
    “homeless people next thing we know they will be bused in for free food once they catch wind they can eat for free.” (Oh, no! Filthy homeless people might come!)
    “too many druggies and alcoholics hanging around for food and warmth” (I don’t want to deal with societies problems, don’t show them to me)
    “it might make sense if they were putting it in Detroit, Pontiac or some other poor city” (Black people are poor)

    The racism and class prejudice in some of these posts is astounding. I understand wanting more business for Dearborn, but it really seems like many of you assume the worst about this situation. What if it brings press coverage to Dearborn? What if people come for this experiment and stay to wander downtown Dearborn?

  27. Call Me A Meanie But..... says:

    “Proud to live here”: I left Detroit to get away from, among other things, all those things that you imply make me a “classist” or “racist” for trying to avoid, when really, I just wanted to get away from that stuff because I prefer not to live around drug addicts, mental patients and homeless people who are often both mental patients and drug addicts. If you enjoy the prospect of conspicuous brotherly love so much, why don’t you move to E. Warren and Chene (That’s E. Warren not W. Warren, and CHENE, not CHASE), and become the first to start a gentrification movement in that area?

    Your level of righteous indignation makes me infer that your wife and kids haven’t spent much time living around (not driving past but RESIDING near) people who can’t afford to eat, not because they lost their job at FoMoCo, but because they use all of the money we give them on drugs or because they are unemployable and homeless due to mental illness. If you don’t think publicizing, just before Winter, free food and a warm place to eat it will attract them, I suggest you take a look at the type of places that do offer free food. Would you want the men and women who hang out at the intersection of Warren and Southfield to be hanging out a half a block away from the house that you’re struggling to pay for? I know I don’t. How long would it take someone to walk from Warren and Southfield to downtown west Dearborn? And why should they walk back when they can get free food at Panera, take a bath in the sink and panhandle after mass at Sacred Heart?

  28. Former Customer says:

    Went there today, not knowing the change was made. The staff jump on you when you come in. Insanity. We will not be back.

  29. Michael D. Albano says:

    “Meanie”, you’re no meanie. You’re telling it like it is. Today leaders and organizations are far more concerned with being politically correct than dealing with the real facts and causes of important issues. People are more interested in calling someone an Uncle Tom, a racist and whatever, instead of facing up to the fact that most homeless people and drug addicts, to name a few, have been carried instead of just being given a lift up. The proof is all over the place that carrying and coddling them, instead of making them responsible for their own behavior, has resulted in a nation of entitlement.

    When I lived in Modesto, CA., homeless people, who today are overwhelmingly drug addicts were everywhere in the business districts. Business districts that were once successful became unsuccessful quickly because people just didn’t want to come into those business districts because of their fears of constantly being panhandled and because they feared crime. It didn’t matter what business one visited, the homeless were there everywhere panhandling, especially at the entry point of these businesses.

    Another proven demographic fact is that women shop far more than men for many reasons. Women customers were afraid to shop in those districts and they surely didn’t want to bring their children down there, so the volume of sales and profits went down significantly in those businesses that had a large homeless population near them.

    Break-ins, auto thefts, larceny, you name the crime, it all went up significantly. Victim crimes also went up significantly. Very few people felt safe in those business districts and when don’t feel safe or they feel repulsed, they simply don’t visit those business districts any more. The main purpose of a business is to make a profit, or else they won’t survive and employees won’t have jobs. The main purpose of a for profit business is NOT to be a social agency.

    I also was the President of a large homeowners association in California for a number of years. This complex was one of the finest I’d ever seen and when the homeless came into the surrounding retail business areas, with many camping out and living on the streets there, the crime in our complex went up significantly. Our management, the board of directions, security and police were overwhelmed with the issues we suddenly had to deal with.

    And like someone else pointed out, until you’ve extensively had them live among you, until you’ve experienced the havoc that homeless drug addicts bring to your community, it’s easy to judge what is right and what is wrong simply sitting on your couch talking about it. Besides, it’s not only conservatives and mainstream people who move when these types come into their neighborhoods and communities, it’s also a lot of bleeding heart liberals who also move in droves.

    Just a simple to the point article about research on homeless people:

    With all that being said, the other thing that baffles me is that although I’ve always realized that our city and surrounding area demographic is not upscale, but simply working people, I’ve always believed that our leaders decision to make downtown west Dearborn the next Royal Oak was misguided for those reasons. But the big question to me is, if our leaders still want to make downtown west Dearborn a Royal Oak replica, then the business model downtown that Panera Bread is taking sort of defeats that purpose. Doesn’t it?

    Lastly, if this Panera Bread model works and does not devastate downtown west Dearborn, then I will be the first to admit I’m wrong.

  30. Panera Employee says:

    Excuse me, “Former customer”…
    All these people above are a perfect example of WHY the staff jumped on you when you walked through the door, because people have QUESTIONS!
    I work at the Dearborn Panera and those people that “jumped on you” are called greeters, they were specifically placed there at the door to GREET you and let you know about the changes we’ve been going through so we can inform you, sorry if we offended you!

  31. Dearborn doesn't need this says:

    meanie and michael you hit it right on, thank goodness there are people that see how bad this is for our city as one of the other commenters said this location will probably end up closing. My friends that got wind of “Panera Cares” said they will no longer be customers. If Panera would like to donate to a charity I encourage them to do this. This is a thriving Panera location that will no longer be. I think it sounds all nice but in a ideal work isn’t a good idea. I personally do not want to deal with homeless people begging for money as I enter a business it just isn’t safe, unfortunately most if not all homeless people are drug addicts and or have mental illness. I am done with Panera.

  32. Michael D. Albano says:

    Let me state again, that as time goes by, if I am proven wrong about this, I will be the 1st to admit it. I also hope that I am wrong about this, as the last thing I want to see is any more issues negatively impact Dearborn, especially downtown west Dearborn which seems to have far more vacancies than any other business area of the city.

    I also am not against seeing society helping homeless people or others that may need help, as long as the people being helped are people who really want help and are people who do not expect working people and taxpayers to carry them for the rest of their life.

    However, while there are many noble charities and organizations that want to help the downtrodden, many of these groups cause more problems than they resolve.

    For example, when Proposition 36 passed in California in 2001 by voters, it was a program that was supposed to ease prison overcrowding of drug addicts who were not getting treatment in prison and who became worse criminals and addicts after they got out. The main crux of the program was that addicts (mostly meth addicts) who are arrested for drug offenses without committing any other crime, who agree to drug rehab, would be released on their own recognizance. They had to attend regular drug addiction courses paid for by the state and be regularly tested for drugs. Regardless of their past arrest and conviction record for drugs, each addict agreeing to rehab started with a clean slate and amazingly they were allowed 5 chances at rehab and if they failed, then finally they were sent to prison.

    On top of this, the city of Modesto, CA and other noble charitable organizations decided that they needed large amounts of homeless shelters and programs for these released addicts. Law enforcement and law abiding citizens in California were not prepared for what followed. When word got out about all the shelter and programs for addicts, thousands of them moved to Modesto and many other cities in California and America purchased bus tickets to ship their addicts to Modesto, CA.

    Because police did not have the resources and manpower to handle this influx of addicts and the crime that came with it, very quickly Modesto business areas were bombarded with addicts panhandling and victim and property crimes in business and residential areas went up in record numbers. The charities that supplied the food and shelter were also overwhelmed and didn’t have the resources to feed, clothe and shelter the overwhelming number of addicts that were bombarding them asking for help.

    So homeless addicts started sleeping everywhere – in bushes, in or around dumpsters, in parks, in business areas after closing and in numerous other areas. When police would arrest them for a drug crime, these addicts were smart. They simply agreed to rehab and were let out back into society, where it was quickly discovered they were still taking drugs and committing more crimes and because they were transients, they were hard to find. Worst of all, thousands of them never showed up for drug rehab.

    To sum it all up, despite all the most noble intentions of many parties involved to help drug addicts and homeless people, Modesto, CA went from being known as a wonderful city to live in and the home of Gallo Wine and hometown of George Lucas to becoming known as the meth capital of America. It went from being a city as nice as Canton, Livonia, Dearborn and many others to a city that anyone in their right mind did not want to move it and many desirable residents simply moved elsewhere.

    Perhaps one single store like Panera giving away freebies is nothing to worry about in Dearborn and perhaps I am overstating the case. If am am, that would make my day. However, it just makes more sense to me to place your store in a market where the demographic fits your charitable cause and that city is not Dearborn. At least not yet….

  33. Dave Bowman says:

    Trying to get a good grasp of the local feel / opinion on this hot issue. Please click on my name to participate in an anonymous poll about the new Panera Cares in Dearborn.

  34. justasking says:

    Will the paid parking lot still be full price?

  35. tdogg says:

    When I read Mike A’s comments, I’m reminded of the old saying,
    “A liberal is just a conservative who has never been mugged.”

  36. OldDearbornGuy says:

    How will they pay rent? Maybe the city should try that with their payed parking. Who will try and save Dearborn? Not the City Mayor.

  37. Reality Bites says:

    This country is in trouble. Our account balances are dangerously imbalanced, structural unemployment is rising, our country is bleeding blood and treasure on two wars, servicing the national debt is stifling capital markets, and our national infrastructure is becoming antiquated. Combine this with the emergence of China and India creating even more pressure on already scarce resources, and you have a massive global catastrophe in the making. Not to mention the game changers of demographic upheaval, and North Korea. This country needs serious answers to serious questions. Trite phrases like “A liberal is just a conservative who has never been mugged” add nothing to the national conversation.
    The media establishment, and both political parties have a lot invested in making the debate right vs left. The debate should be wright vs wrong.
    Does anybody actually think lowering already low tax rates, or extending unemployment benefits past two years will create jobs? Yes people do. These people are the media establishment, and brokers in the two party system. This system of viewing society through a conservative / Liberal prism is simply counterproductive.

    We are facing very complicated problems. The solution to these problems are just as complicated. The refusal to think critically because the answers may challenge conventional wisdom is a weakness we cannot afford.

  38. Peder Blohm says:

    Panera are either smart marketers to increase revenues by selling yesterdays left over bread from other local stores shipped to Dearborn, and sold as “Fresh Baked Yesterday” or a serious attempt to help the less fortunate.
    In press releases …one is given the impression “no cash registers” only a bin to put in what you feel you can pay as a contribution. Not correct! The only thing taken away is the cash register draw, and replaced with a bin in front of the cash register and the cash register screen will show how much you are expected to pay. You are also given a receipt that gives you the anticipated “donation”. So if you have $10.00 showing on the screen, and only have $5.00 to pay, you would feel very uncomfortable, and if your anticipated amount is $7.00 and you have a $10.00, to ask for change feels as uncomfortable, as it is a “donation”.
    The concept of collecting unsold items/bread from the other stores and sell it in Dearborn under the “cloud” of a honor system and having people paying what they use to pay or more for old products, instead of giving it to soup kitchens or just throwing it away is a very smart business idea, especially with the change from a for-profit to a non-profit and all the tax ramifications that gives you.
    Millers Bar has a clean honor system that is a part of our culture in Dearborn.. This is in my opinion a cheap and unethical way to increase revenues.
    What do you think?

  39. Not So Fast says:

    “Millers Bar has a clean honor system that is a part of our culture in Dearborn..”

    They also charge for water.

  40. Bill Cole says:

    I grew up in Clayton and now live across Detroit from Dearborn (Eastpointe) and I think this needs clarification. The Clayton “Panera Cares” shop was one of the first St. Louis Bread Co. locations, dating back to the early 90’s when SLBC was very much a local business. Panera’s overall style, menu, and charitable work all are rooted in SLBC, so it really isn’t a fair critique to look at this as a corporate behemoth stomping on local businesses. I haven’t walked through central Clayton for over a decade, but I know that when SLBC opened up there in the early 90’s it was immediately the best affordable food within a block of the county govt. center. There may still be places older than SLBC nearby (Clayton Diner? ) but if their food is worth paying anything for today then they’ve improved a great deal in 20 years. It is also important to note that the Panera Cares model is an experiment that Panera says has to be self-supporting, although the details on that are not 100% clear. It’s not as if they are pouring unlimited funds into a project to crush competitors. I am not familiar with West Dearborn, but I know that when last I was in Clayton frequently the competition for weekday food was more about crowding and getting served fast than it was about price or quality.

    As for giving it away in more directed ways, that is something that Panera (and SLBC when they were purely a St. Louis area operation) has been doing for almost their whole existence through Operation Dough-Nation.

  41. Stacy Hacker says:

    I think you should dig a littler deeper into your pockets if you feel so guilty and concerned making a donation. A donation is from your heart… Da!!! Thumbs up Panera!!!