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Another ‘Socialism’ Fail: Panera Bread Closing its Last Pay-What-You-Can Restaurant in Boston

Another ‘Socialism’ Fail: Panera Bread Closing its Last Pay-What-You-Can Restaurant in Boston

“it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable”

Panera restaurants launched a non-profit called “Panera Cares” in 2010, which ran certain locations on a pay-what-you-can basis. This month, the last such location in Boston is closing its doors.

Sarah Taylor writes at The Blaze:

Panera Bread’s ‘pay-what-you-want’ socialist program goes totally belly-up

Panera Bread will be closing its last pay-what-you-can restaurant, located in Boston, on Feb. 15.

The move comes after the business’s “nonprofit” restaurant concept became unviable. On Tuesday, Eater reported that none of the restaurant’s five locations was self-sustaining.

What are the details?

The program, Panera Cares, was initially created to serve food to low-income people nine years ago in 2010. The concept was a pay-what-you-want business model in which patrons visiting the restaurant could eat for a donation.

In 2010, Ron Shaich — the company’s founder and former CEO — said that the program’s aim was a “test of humanity.”

“Would people pay for it?” he asked during a TEDxStLouis talk. “Would people come in and value it?”
The answer was apparently “no,” because here we are less than a decade later, with no Panera Cares’ franchises running in the black.

The outlet also reported that through the project’s nine-year run, many of the locations were “mobbed” by homeless people and students who ate without donating. Because of the “mob,” one location was forced to limit its homeless patrons’ meals to a few per week.

Here’s a 2010 video report from CBS News about the launch of the project:

Erin Kuschner of has a statement from Panera on the closure of the last location in Boston:

“The Panera Bread Foundation and our Boston team have been humbled by those community members who have embraced our mission to help fight food insecurity and supported the Boston Panera Cares community cafe,” Panera Bread said in a statement to “During its six years in operation, we served meals with dignity to everyone who walked through our doors. Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable. Panera remains dedicated to our other long-term philanthropic programs, like Day-End Dough-Nation, which donates $100 million worth of retail goods annually to feed those in need nationwide.”

The statement continued: “We’re working with the current bakery-café associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain. Panera is committed to ensuring a smooth transition for all associates.” (Panera Bread bought Au Bon Pain in 2017; both are owned by JAB Holding Co.)

While Panera deserves credit for trying to make a difference, it’s not difficult to see why this experiment ultimately failed. As Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire explains in the brief video below, it has much to do with human nature.

Featured image via YouTube.


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Who would have known that ignoring profit would make a business not viable???

    johnny dollar in reply to RACarvalho. | February 8, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    No one could possibly have seen this coming.
    I believe the Washington Compost would describe this as “unexpectedly” in their headlines.

    pwaldoch in reply to RACarvalho. | February 11, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    What amazes me more than anything else is how these people can’t seem to learn from history and LINE UP to have reality smack them in the face hard before they finally realize, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea…”
    Sad thing is these idiots have to take the rest of us for the ride before they learn anything.

And anyone that wants a job can have a job

Otherwise, you will still get a living wage, free healthcare, food, lodging, education!

How’s that going to turn out crazyeyes?

    JusticeDelivered in reply to gonzotx. | February 8, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    When I look into those eyes I see hard vacuum. I bet that if someone drilled a small hole in her head that a vortex would develop and puree the person drilling it as they were sucked in.

. . . said that the program’s aim was a “test of humanity.”

Of course that test has been run thousands of times over the last few millennia. And we have a decent idea of what the answer is. But “Panera Cares” ain’t it.

While Panera deserves credit for trying to make a difference

But Panera did nothing different. Can’t make a difference if you just bang your head against the same old wall in the same old way.

“Free” is not a system. Health insurance runs into the same problem. Full subsidies generate overwhelming demand. Everybody wants anything which is free—a test, a medication, a procedure—whether or not they need it, and whether or not it’s any good. As soon as they have to pay something—and it doesn’t have to be much—things automatically become much more sensible.

    MajorWood in reply to tom_swift. | February 8, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    So, how much did the give-aways cost them vs how much all of the virtue-signalling advertising would have cost them? I bet they made money on the deal, and it was the media who suffrred a loss of income stream. Not that the media wouldn’t have just used the money to buy a commercial telling everyone just how essential they are.

    MajorWood in reply to tom_swift. | February 9, 2019 at 12:40 am

    Not only do they want it, but then they start to neglect themselves since they no longer bear the responsibility of fixing the problem. In the past, families made a choice between grandma getting her operation of keeping the house. Nowadays, that choice no longer enters the picture. Why restrict ones diet of sweets when .gov will cover the costs of diabetes meds, the triple bypass, and the joint replacements. But you give someone the hard choice of restricting their diet or hobbling around and you might start to see a few more bodies at Weight Watchers. Nowadays we seem to have a culture where people value their worth in terms of how much others will spend on them.

Well, they obviously didn’t have the right people running it. I mean, that’s all it would take, right?

    MattMusson in reply to UJ. | February 8, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    Instead of paying what they could, people paid what they thought Panera Food was actually Worth.

    And, Panera could not survive on that.

There’s nothing wrong with this “business model”, so long as you do not expect to break even, let alone make a profit. I know of one restaurant that ran more or less like this for decades; officially it was a normal restaurant where you ordered, ate, and got a bill, but it was widely known that if you couldn’t afford it you could leave without paying, and nobody but the staff would know. That way those who needed a free meal could get one with dignity, rather than be seen going to a soup kitchen. Of course it lost money, the owner expected that. She kept it going for as long as she could, but after decades she could no longer afford to subsidize it and had to close.

This “pay what you want” idea is wonderful. I hope the IRS begins this program soon.

“While Panera deserves credit for trying to make a difference, it’s not difficult to see why this experiment ultimately failed.” The only thing that Panera deserves credit for is forcing hardworking people to pay for someone else’s food.

I would bet that NONE of these Panera Cares locations ever saw a year in the black. This “experiment” was paid for by the customers at Panera’s traditional locations and the share holders. It was nothing more than liberal, socialist virtue signalling. And, its eventual demise was guaranteed. It sounded like a good idea, if you coe from a land of unicorns and lemonade falls.

In a word, morons.

Paying what you want means free to most people. For some reason I can’t figure out how giving stuff away for free would work? I believe Panera Bread saw this as an opportunity to get millions of dollars of positive publicity.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Jackie. | February 8, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    I honestly think that people need work in order to thrive as a human. How about coupling those meals with a requirement to pickup neighborhood trash. Hang a body cam on them, give them two-garbage bags, and tell them to come back with them full. And there are always dishes to be done. Foe a number of years I washed dishes at a monthly church luncheon. It is amazing how many dishes you can wash with a commercial dishwasher. Equally amazing are the number of people who never do anything to help clean up.

    malclave in reply to Jackie. | February 8, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    “For some reason I can’t figure out how giving stuff away for free would work?”

    What they lose per transaction they’ll make up in volume.

This business was based on the standard Socialist creed, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In every case that’s been tried, the result is a large increase in need and a large decrease in ability. That’s predictable human nature.

In Panera Cares, I would have expected large needs from people who want and need food, and small returns based on their professed ability to pay. For the management to have expected otherwise was highly irresponsible.

    Formerly known as Skeptic in reply to OldProf2. | February 8, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    The problem with “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is that it COULD work IF people actual worked to their abilities and only took according to their needs. In a small group of dedicated people you might run a commune that way for a while. This is what makes it attractive to some.

    But, as you say, human nature being what it is, few people will continue to work to the best of their ability if there’s nothing more in it for them, and few people will only take according to their needs it they can just as easily take more. It is simply NOT sustainable at any scale.

“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” 2 (Thessalonians 3:10 NASB)

I think Freankonomics noted that 78% of people are completely honest when it comes to the honor system (might be 82%, I’m dyslexic, numbers flip in my head that way, but it’s one of the two). But the problem is when you OFFER people socialism, more people cheat. People who would normally be completely honest will take a free meal if they know they can screw someone over.

    Albigensian in reply to Mr85. | February 8, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    Social pressure can induce people to pay, even if they don’t have to. And virtual rewards (‘gold’, ‘silver’ and bronze coins for paying $1,000., $100., and $25. for meals worth $15 might work, esp. if the coins’ virtue would auto-deprecate by regularly changing their appearance) might work, at least in some locales.

    But, social pressure also works quite well in reverse. As in, “I don’t see anyone else paying, so why should I?”

    You’d think if Panera was actually interested in doing this they’d do inexpensive, small-scale experiments until they discovered what (if anything) actually worked. But perhaps they didn’t, umm, care enough to actually try?

    Or they realized from the beginning it was going to fail. But if so, why would they even start?

    Or maybe their utopianism just got mugged by reality. If so, perhaps some actually learned something.

    MajorWood in reply to Mr85. | February 8, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    At the store today a customer walked away from the self-checkout and left his cash-back. The next customer ran after him and gave it to the guy. I told the next customer guy that we now have an absolute minimum for how much his integrity is worth. I already know that mine is more than $40.

This is interesting.

This wasn’t “socialism” (as in state socialism) at all. The reason is was not is that there was no component of force involved. None.

And “socialism” is often a good and fine thing. Insurance is “socialism” in that it spreads out risks over participating people or their interests. Likewise fraternal organizations. All perfectly fine.

A charity is “socialism” in the voluntary sense. It’s purpose is to “socialize” the sometimes brutal verities of life over a group of people instead of it simply hitting one person or their family.

The ONLY time “socialism” becomes evil is when the state becomes a player. Then the whole deal becomes coercive, the opposite of voluntary.

Ergo, the Panera Cares was more akin to a charity, and quite different from state socialism. No force, no coercion, only a voluntary appeal to customers who had the ability to pay…and even pay a bit more knowing that some could not pay.

I see basically the same thing commonly in my rural area of Texas. Almost constantly, people are holding barbecues to raise money for families in crisis. Nobody is charged for their plate. They donate. Often they don’t eat at all.

There are many reasons the Panera Cares thingy failed, but being “socialist” (in the state socialism sense) isn’t one.

    Voice_of_Reason in reply to Ragspierre. | February 8, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    you mischaracterize insurance. it’s not socialism, it’s a for-profit risk sharing business where policy holders have to pay fees and the total of all fees must exceed total expenditures.

      Ragspierre in reply to Voice_of_Reason. | February 8, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      No, I didn’t “mischaracterize” any damn thing. It IS “socializing” risk.

      Everyone involved understands that. Ever hear of Llyods of London?

      And, ace, have you ever heard of insurance that does NOT involve ANY profit expectation? Been around a LONNNNNNNNG time. Comes in several flavors.

        Voice_of_Reason in reply to Ragspierre. | February 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm

        Spreading risk across a pool of policy holders is not socialism, “ace”. that’s just stupid, “ace”. insurance is predicated on making a profit for the insurance company or underwriters, “ace”.

        and Lloyd’s is most definitely a for-profit insurance market, “ace”.

        and if there are non-profit insurance company’s they still have to take in more in fees/premiums than they expend, “ace”, or they will go bankrupt. something that governments don’t have to do, at least for a while, “ace”.

        Sent from my iPad

          Ragspierre in reply to Voice_of_Reason. | February 8, 2019 at 5:59 pm

          You’re wrong rationally, historically, and every other which way.

          Lloyds was NOT initially a “for profit” outfit. Look it up.

          There are insurance forms where subscribers ONLY pay anything when a loss occurs.

          You aren’t bright enough to mess with, so I’m finished trying to educate you.

    Albigensian in reply to Ragspierre. | February 8, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    “Insurance” is the business of buying and selling quantifiable risks.

    Although not necessarily for-profit. A mutual insurance company is a form of co-operative enterprise. It differs from other sorts of co-ops (e.g., agricultural producer co-ops, consumer co-ops) in that it deals exclusively in a non-tangible, financial product.

    Raising money to help unfortunates is a form of charity. Yet charity almost always fails to meet all legitimate needs. Thus tempting some to coerce “contributions” to pay for things they think should be paid for. BUT, forced “contributions” are not charity.

    The essential difference between charity and socialism is coercion; asking (non-coercively) makes all the difference. And although coercion is usually done by governments, one might characterise certain community-based forms of extreme social disapproval as coercive.

    MajorWood in reply to Ragspierre. | February 8, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Actually, there is likely an unspoken “social” coercion involved. People go to charity auctions and similar events to be seen, and if you aren’t there, your name will end up on a list. We have it here in Portland with the “everyone is included” signs. If you don’t put one in your store window, you are socially ostracized by the SJW crowd. They learned the technique from the Nazis as a way to either identify the enemy, or to make the enemy conform to the point where they become assimilated.

    I used to say that AA was the only perfectly socialist organization on the planet, but in reality, it is like all of the others which require a gun pointed to the head in order to work. The only difference is that we are holding a gun to our own head.

Duh, pay what you can is what every restaurant is founded on. If I can’t afford Wolfgang Puck’s place, then Taco Bell will do. In every transaction, we pay what we can. Both depend on their respective demographics that can afford their product.

The disregard for human nature, math, and common sense from those on the left is astonishing.

    Albigensian in reply to windbag. | February 8, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    And if you can’t afford Taco Bell then you might (dare I say it?) prepare your own food?

    Restaurant meals typically cost 400% or more the cost of preparing similar food at home.

    Which, I’d think, makes serving restaurant meals as a charity offering somewhat suspect, unless there’s some way to discourage those who really could fix their own food (and presumably would if they had to).

    It’s as though you were to offer subsidized, pay-what-you-wish transportation in limousines. The point isn’t that charity must be as grudging or stingy as possible, but that it’s to both recipient and donor’s advantage if the recipient is required to do what they can.

    Because, if I’m working harder to help you than you are working to help yourself then something is very, very wrong. Which makes one wonder: did anyone at Panera actually think this through?

amatuerwrangler | February 8, 2019 at 2:22 pm

So. I have to wonder what form the protests to the closing and/or the push-back from politicians demanding that they remain open. What will the homeless and other forms of freeloaders do for a good meal. It is so demeaning to have to eat at a soup kitchen or mission.

I adhere to the idea that if we, as a society, make it less easy, let alone inviting. to be “homeless” there would be fewer homeless people.

Did Panera actually believe that this model would be able to sustain itself, or did they have in mind some idea of a lifespan for it? If the latter, did it last long enough to reach that goal?

    Are you suggesting that the guy who has money for cigarettes might have food instead if he were to make different and better choices? If they want to annoy me by blocking the sidewalk, then I feel OK pointing out that they have money for ciggies. I have money for food because I don’t smoke. It really isn’t that complicated. My favorite was the tweeker in a news story who said that he did meth so he could move around and stay warm. Stupid me bought a coat instead to stay warm. What was I thinking. I simply refuse to help anyone who isn’t ready to stop making bad choices.

      amatuerwrangler in reply to MajorWood. | February 10, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      The cigarette-food choice is a reasonable analogy. I agree and would add in things like booze, hair braiding, and obviously the drugs.

      I hold the concept that many, if not most, people who are “poor” are that way due to choices the make or have made in the past. Example: the one who drops out of high school and then finds himself unemployable. Yes, one can recover from that, but its a steep road and many are not willing to make the attempt.

The outlet also reported that through the project’s nine-year run, many of the locations were “mobbed” by homeless people and students who ate without donating.

Actually this experiment tells us little about the challenges of dealing with the homeless, since students eat like locusts without help from anyone, homeless or not. And they tend to find the concept of commerce mystifying; their entire lives up til then have taught them that food is something which magically appears in Mom’s refrigerator. Money simply doesn’t come into it. And just try to find a location anywhere near Boston which isn’t submerged in locusts. The little bastards are everywhere, and eating 24/7.

Voice_of_Reason | February 8, 2019 at 3:42 pm

from each according to xe’s ability to pay, to each according to their sandwhich needs…

…c’mon,, how could that possibly fail?

This was more an experiment in charity than ‘socialism’ IMO. Panera Bread locally is exceptionally good with their charitable giving, my Knights of Columbus council runs a program where we deliver left over food from restaurants and bakeries to a local homeless kitchen run by Saint Vincent de Paul, and Panera Bread has been one of our most enthusiastic supporters, to the point of occasionally throwing in fresh bakery products when there are few leftovers from the day before.

Where I think this failed was it tried to reinvent the wheel. Charities already exist that are geared towards feeding the homeless and are both equipped and experienced at dealing with them. They tried to go it alone and didn’t expect that bad actors would take advantage of them.

Panera called it “conscious capitalism,” and said that it failed, even though it was socialism, not capitalism at all. We could have predicted this.

I knew there was a reason I didn’t jump on their IPO.

It takes more than one kind of bread to run a successful bakery.

“Unexpectedly” closing.

Fixed it.

I find it hilarious that many/most on the Left see themselves as way smarter than those of us not politically like them when the exact opposite is so obviously true.

If you have a better idea in this country you are free to try it. Another bunch of socialists on the road to capitalism.

socialism_sucks | February 11, 2019 at 7:24 pm

Socialism has never worked. Look at Venezuela! My college Spanish professor was from Venezuela. The great people of Venezuela are eating dogs and the women are selling their bodies for the basic necessities.