Take Part profiles a ‘Panera Cares Community Café’ in downtown Boston, a restaurant where customers pay what they can. Founder and co-CEO Ron Shaich built the small chain of cafés’on the simple premise that the businesses had to provide value to the communities they were in:
With locations now in St. Louis, Dearborn, MI, Portland, OR, Chicago, and Boston, clearly Panera Cares thinks it has a winning formula for giving those struggling with food insecurity a “hand-up.” But will other big chains follow suit? Shaich hopes so, but he wants public companies everywhere to begin to view corporate responsibility as something broader than returning value to their shareholders.
“Imagine a world in which Nordstrom’s or Gap are running the thrift shops. Or Home Depot is doing distribution in the context of natural calamities. A world in which our energy companies are as focused on prevention as remediation,” he says. “I don’t know how we have a business 50 years from now if we’re not taking care of the communities in which we live.”
People might think Shaich is crazy – after all, business are supposed to be about turning a profit above all else. But as Henry Ford figured out at the turn of the 20th century, having people who can afford your product is the only real solution to long term prosperity. Ford famously raised the wages of his employees for good reason – to expand as he put it, the “ever-widening circle of buying”. Panera Cares Community Cafés may seem silly to hard nosed capitalists, but it’s an expanding business built on principles that seems to make sense for the people it serves, not just its owners.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.