Monday, July 25, 2011

Panera Break - a light in the darkness

 [Photo of Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread, from Business Week]

My wife and I like Panera Bread restaurants.  We like them enough that we patronize Panera Bread at least once a week.  The food is generally tasty and fresh, the service is generally good, and the prices are quite reasonable.

Now, we have another reason for liking Panera Bread.  Unlike many corporate leaders, the founder of Panera Bread, Ron Shaich, believes his main objective in life is not to accumulate as much money as possible no matter what the cost to those around him.  He has another vision.

Kelly McCartney has written an article for Shareable, reprinted at AlterNet, describing Shaich's vision for feeding the hungry.  McCartney notes how "Rare is the voice that speaks for the underprivileged."  Yet there is, "a little whisper out there in the distance."

Shaich's experiment began in Clayton, Missouri last year.  "He opened a Panera Cares pay-what-you-can cafe and it has been an unqualified success, so much so that he has since opened two more locations - in Dearborn, Michigan, and Portland, Oregon.  The goal, now, is to open one per quarter in diverse communities around the country - the geographical logic being that the folks with more means can help offset those with less."

Shaich says "'The vision for the Panera Cares cafe was to use Panera's unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities.  Thus, the Foundation developed these community cafes to make a difference by addressing the food insecurity issues that affect millions of Americans.'  More than 50 million, to be exact."

Fifty million hungry people in this country and our Congress blusters about non issues such as raising the debt ceiling.  And then, specificially, the Republicans constantly seek out ways to make it more difficult for those 50 million hungry people to find food, jobs, or health care!

McCartney goes on to detail how the Panera Cares cafes work.  And there's more.  "[...] with the Panera Cares Foundation, Shaich spreads the wealth one step further in an almost commons-based venture where food is a right, not a privilege.  Here, the stakeholders are valued alongside the shareholders.  But that's not all.  Shaich also aims to triple-leverage Panera's resources by feeding people who can't feed themselves, training and funneling at-risk youth back into the mainstream, and setting an example for other corporations to do more than simply write a check.  As a result, both private (funding) and public (people) assets are brought to bear in a successful partnership rooted in sharing."

Sounds almost too good to be true in this age of self-obsessed, self-absorbed, me-first, teapot crack-pots and other sundry crock-pots

There is much more and you can read all about it in McCartney's article here.

And you'll find background information on Ron Shaich here.

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