The Panera Bread foundation opened a nonprofit Panera Cares café in Boston Wednesday, which does not charge prices for meals and instead accepts donations.
Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread and president of the Panera Bread Foundation said he was excited to start opening Panera Cares cafes in the restaurant’s home city.
“Today, there are more than 1,600 Panera bakery-cafes in 44 states and Canada, but our roots are right here in Boston,” he said in a statement. “It is a combination of our ties to the city, the generosity of Bostonians and the community needs that make the city ideal for our newest Panera Cares café.”
This is the fifth café opened by the Panera Bread Foundation after four successful cafés in St. Louis, Detroit, Portland, Ore. and Chicago, according to a press release.
The café is located at 3 Center Plaza, near the Government Center T stop.
The Panera Cares café’s aim is to address the issue of food insecurity and make a direct impact on communities, according to the statement.
“This community café is a gift to the community that was funded by Panera. All of the build-out costs — nearly $1 million — were covered by the company,” Shaich said. “Now that the site is open, it is up to the community to sustain it.”
There are no set prices on any food item in the café. Instead, there are donation bins with suggested donation amounts for customers to follow. The donations will help cover the direct cost of the café.
“This is a pay-it-forward model,” Shaich said in the statement. “And it will only work if the community supports it and one another.”
This new addition to the Boston community has already been warmly received by other non-profits across the city.
Catherine D’Amato, President and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, said this new café will serve as another great resource for Boston residents suffering from food insecurity.
“This is a step in the right direction to help end hunger and raise awareness of this ongoing epidemic that affects one-in-nine residents of eastern Massachusetts and one-in-six Americans,” she said in the release.
Vendors across the city donated to the new café, filling the 4,500 square foot space with furniture and start-up supplies.
Shaich said in the press release that assisting the community is the priority of the café.
“We are part of this community and we have a vested interest in addressing the very real problem of food insecurity that many of our neighbors deal with.”
A number of Boston University students said the cafes sounded like a good idea.
“It sounds like it would work,” said Erica Wivagg, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman. “It feels as if people would overpay for their food because of other people paying less or from guilt. I think it’s definitely a good idea — good for society.”
Wivagg said as a struggling college student, she would pay about 65 percent of the actual price for goods at the café.
Fatima Adigun, a sophomore in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said it would be tempting not to pay full price for goods.
“I would like to pay what I normally would, but I know I definitely won’t, and neither would many of my friends,” she said.
Alyssa Tarasiewicz, a CAS freshman, said she thinks she would pay full price for the Panera food.
“I’d probably just pay for the whole thing,” she said. “I’m really not a thief.”
Clinton Nguyen and Jasper Craven contributed to the reporting of this story.