Panera Bread Community Cafes

Image curtesy of USA TODAY. Panera founder Ron Shaich in a "Panera Cares" cafe location.

One of last week’s blog posts focused on the cost of eating gluten-free and the potential benefit for restaurants to support their gluten-intolerant customers.  Much of the outcry surrounding the gluten-free community revolves around the expense of products.  And let’s face it – paying up to three times as much for a loaf of bread could get anybody in the wrong mood.

What if I told you that in three select locations in America, you could pay no more than any other person eating at the same restaurant?  That’s right: Dearborn, Michigan, Clayton, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon all have special community Panera Breads where the customers can choose how much they pay for their meal.

Although the focus of these community cafes is to provide an opportunity for individuals of all socio-economic statuses to partake in a filling meal, these restaurants could also be an important step for the gluten-free community.  We list Panera Bread in our Restaurant Guide because it offers alternative options for gluten-free diners.  Now imagine paying as much for a whole salad as for your cup of soup or a half a sandwich.  Since bread tends to be one of the most profitable items at a bakery cafe, items made without it are often significantly more expensive – and this can be the bane for gluten-sensitive individuals everywhere.

There’s even more good news out there; Panera is finding that their cafes are self-sustaining.  This means, of course, that the odds of having one sprout up in your home town are growing – and the chance for meal equality may be just around the corner…

Would you be interested in getting a community cafe in your city?  Would it be a sustainable opportunity?  Tell us what you think!