Earlier in the summer I read about the St. Louis Bread (aka Panera) location in St. Louis that had become a non-profit cafe. It took me a while to find the location of this store. This morning I found it: 10 South Central Avenue Clayton, MO 63105. It is open daily from 7am until 4pm. As soon as corporate buys the store an awning, the manager assures me it will be easier to find.
Here is how it works. There are suggested prices (about 60% of usual Panera prices), but people pay what they want or donate volunteer time. As the cafe is tax-exempt, there is no tax on items. Signs encourage people to pay more or less than the suggested price, depending on their means. The proceeds support the cafe, which aims to be self-sufficient. Well, the signs say the cafe aims to be self-sufficient. Newspaper articles note the cafe aims to cover its food costs, but that the national chain will cover rent and salaries. Additionally, proceeds from the cafe support its volunteer work. The manager told me that the cafe is currently covering 85-90% of its food costs (fresh deli meat, cheeses, other non-baked goods).
It is a smaller Panera location, like 1/2 the size of the average cafe. It is oddly quiet, even though I know that multiple nearby churches just let out. Aah, the manager is explaining that the store will get busy soon. Oh, and now that it is a little after noon on Sunday, it is plenty busy. Clientele seems to include people from all walks off life. I have to say it is refreshing to be at Panera where not everyone is middle class and Caucasian. Then again, there are other people typing away on their laptops.
Piles of baked goods abound, as the cafe receives 8-24 hour old goods from nearby Paneras. Bags of bread and cookies are available at the door and back by the bakery. People take the bagged items and leave donations as they see fit. There is no need to interact with an employee, which works well for nearby business customers in a hurry and people in need. In the bakery there are piles of cookies, rather than the usual 6-12 per platter at a regular Panera. All items have suggested prices of $1.50.
The manager asks the middle-aged Caucasian gentleman (SES completely elusive to me) sitting next to man how his lunch was. The customer responds that he would really like another cookie. The manager grabs one from the bakery and hands it to him.
I have to appreciate the selling/eating, rather than trashing of day old baked-goods. Then again, a customer asked for a souffle and was told they had been thrown out because they go bad after a few hours. I suppose eggs, even cooked ones, have a limited safety period at room temperature.
My roast beef sandwich tastes just like one from any other Panera; I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. Today, it’s a good thing because it’s exactly what I wanted! No one asked me what I wanted for a side, but maybe I just looked like I wanted potato chips. I think I’ll donate them back and ‘buy’ a cookie.
It is unclear to me how many people in need of food are benefiting from this store, but there were 31 volunteer hours donated last week (a free meal comes with an obligation of an hour of volunteer work). In addition to paid employees, a variety of pools of volunteers assist the store. In the back there are employees from other Panera locations who donate their time, in front there are people trading time for meals, differently-abled people, and people who just want to volunteer.
The friendly manager enthusiastically explains how the store works to each customer. After I pestered with a few questions, he handed me a couple brochures.