And Now For Something Completely Different: Can "Panera Cares" Cafes Level the Gluten-Free Cost Playing Field?

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!

11 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different: Can "Panera Cares" Cafes Level the Gluten-Free Cost Playing Field?”

  1. I am confused, are ALL Panera Breads offering Gluten free options? We have severalin the Atlanta are and it is a popular meeting place with friends. I am often relute with ony a coffe or a salad.

    Will they offer eggs without the ciabbatta bread or the souffle without the croissants?

  2. Triumph Dining lists Panera Bread as a restaurant familiar with gluten-free dietary restrictions. As such, they should be able to provide their customers with gluten-free dining options.

    They have announced no intentions to provide gluten-free bread to their customers. I was merely alluding to the fact that purchasing a salad can often be significantly more pricey than purchasing a sandwich, and that gluten-free diners can pay whatever they wish with Panera’s new select pricing model.

  3. I contacted Panera Bread a few months ago and asked why they couldn’t offer a gluten-free bread to it’s customers. She said it wasn’t cost effective. It would be so nice to go in and NOT have to get a salad! Someday maybe…..

  4. Every Panera Bread location keeps a book of nutritional information. This 3 ring binder is readily available behind the counter at the cashier. There is a checklist by category so you can see what soups, salads, and other selections have wheat in them. I think it also lists ingredients if checking for barley, malt etc. I have found it to be up to date. I use it all the time because it makes ordering very simple.

  5. It would be great to have bread at Panera Bread! I love Jason’s Deli because they do offer GF bread and it is very good.

  6. I have been asking when Panera would offer a GF bread and have been “told they are working on it”. To be told now that they won’t because it would not be cost effective is an insult. When there are so many GF choices and I would be willing to pay a little more for the option like I do at other restaurants, this is extremely inconsiderate. They could have a loaf of Rudi’s bread in the freezer. They are giving lip service to meeting our needs. Not a good marketing tool when so many are offering good options.

  7. I was very excited when I just read your comment on Panera. I have not been going there because there was nothing to order but now there is the possibility of new items on your menu. I plan to visit the Dearborn which is about a half hour away but please consider Birmingham, Troy, or Rochester area also.
    Thank you

  8. I’ve eaten at Panera Bread several times lately. Yes, it’s been a salad, but the food was delicious and I didn’t get sick! I always bring my own Glutino crackers. Each time I’ve checked in the 3 ring binder that they use to check for gluten. They’ve always been very helpful and patient with me. The manager did tell me to be sure that I told a manager each time that I was ordering gluten-free. The manager then chooses the person to make the salad and no one else touches it. So far it has worked very well.

  9. Panera Bread in Naples FL charges $3 per GF bread item, no matter how large (or small) it is. On the plus side, our Jason’s Deli has Udi’s bread in huge restaurant-special slices for sandwiches and has NO extra charge. Also, if you tell Jason’s manager you’re GF a special order person will be assigned with a clean board, clean knife, and clean gloves. Note that you must tell the manager that the same person must put the chips onto the plate because the end-of-the-counter person who fulfills that chore handles all of the previous sandwiches and does not change gloves for the oncoming GF one.

  10. I have worked for panerabread for 13 years and my son was just diagnosed with celiac 3 months ago. It is very hard for him because unless he wants a salad or black bean soup, he’s out of luck!! He is 9. I don’t see anywhere in the future a gluten free bread coming from them. As previous posted, whoever said” not cost effective ” I believe someone saying that. This has opened my eyes to a new world, we r all still Lear.

  11. I would like to see comments updated from all of the resturants listed. Nearly all are at least three years old.

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