Pay-what-you-want café at risk of going out of business in Portland

The pay-what-you-can cafes that Panera Bread Co. launched in 2010 are profitable in Detroit and St. Louis, but its Portland location is losing money, the Portland Tribune reports.

The three Panera Cares cafes, which are identical to the other 1,500 sandwich and pastry shops the $3 billion company runs, allow customers to pay whatever they want for food, even nothing, if that’s all they can afford, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Diners who want to subsidize needy customers can pay extra.

In Detroit and St. Louis, the cafes collect about 80 percent of the revenue made at Panera locations where customers pay regular prices, the Portland Tribune reports, which covers the bills and then some. However, in Portland, the cafe is only collecting about 60 percent of retail revenue and not covering its costs. Panera has said it will close Panera Cares cafes that don’t break even.

While all three cafes serve homeless and needy customers who need a free meal, the Portland café has a larger number of customers who appear to need mental health and addiction services and camp out at the restaurant for hours, making it less attractive for paying customers to also eat there, founder Ron Shaich told the Portland Tribune.

According to the Portland Tribune:

Shaich said a number of down-and-out visitors to the Hollywood café had an attitude that he calls “a sense of entitlement” that the homeless and disadvantaged didn’t appear to have in other cities.

Panera hasn’t given up on the Portland café quite yet. A month ago, the café hired a former corrections deputy to circulate among the patrons and explain to customers who come in too frequently for free meals or who linger too long that they can’t hang out all day.

“This is a café of shared responsibility and not a handout,” Shaich told the Portland Tribune. “It can’t serve as a shelter and we can’t have community organizations sending everybody down.”