By Peter Korn
The Portland Tribune, Apr 21, 2011
Â â€œI donâ€™t think there are any other restaurants where you can say, â€˜Iâ€™ll pay part of it,â€™ â€ Kelly says.
David Milholland, president of the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, has taken a loaf of bread to go and paid a dollar less than retail.
â€œIâ€™m quite aware that I didnâ€™t pay full price,â€ Milholland says. â€œI donâ€™t think I ripped the system off by doing it one time.â€
Milholland says someday when heâ€™s feeling flush, he will likely put that extra dollar back in.
Neighborhood resident Milholland calls the Panera concept â€œa noble experiment,â€ especially for a large corporation. He hopes it succeeds. But heâ€™s not sure.
â€œItâ€™s a pretty loony thing to do,â€ he says.
Thomas Doyle is bussing tables and sweeping up. Doyle, 19, is a Vancouver resident who works at a standard Panera there, for pay, and comes to the Hollywood nonprofit Panera on his days off.
He volunteers for an hour, and eats.
â€œFor some reason something just draws me down here to help out,â€ Doyle says.
Ready for the student rush
The cafÃ© has been busy all afternoon, but past 3 p.m. it gets crowded as students from nearby Grant High School arrive. As many as 25 or 30 descend on the cafÃ© for drinks and snacks. Few pay full price, many opting to donate a dollar or two for tabs that can run as much as $8 or $9 retail.
Staff at the restaurant prepare themselves, from the cashiers who take credit cards to the greeter near the entryway who explains the cafÃ©â€™s concept to newcomers. The question of whether the Panera Cares experiment is going to succeed has met its biggest challenge.
According to Kate Anonacci, Panera Breadâ€™s national spokeswoman, the chainâ€™s nonprofit cafe in St. Louis, which opened in May 2010, takes in about 80 percent to 85 percent of retail, serving close to 4,000 customers a week. At that rate, the cafÃ©â€™s revenue exceeds its costs. The surplus income funds a job training program for local youth.
The second nonprofit Panera opened in Detroit last November with similar sustainable results.
Portland being Portland, the Hollywood Panera is bringing in more customers who are paying more than retail than the cafÃ©s in St. Louis and Detroit, according to General Manager Michelle Singler.
But the Hollywood Panera, which opened Jan. 16, is serving more people who cannot or do not pay than the St. Louis and Detroit cafes. The bulk of those people, says Singler, are not homeless, but high school kids.
Overall, receipts at the Hollywood Panera are about 65 percent of retail, much lower than in Detroit or St. Louis.
Singler has talked to administrators at Grant about the situation. Customers who have overheard kids bragging about the sandwich they bought for 10 cents wrote to the high school. E-mails have gone out to Grant families.
Singler and her staff are searching for a solution, looking for the right words the greeter can offer the kids to help them understand what the cafÃ© is about, and how what they do affects other customers, especially those in need of meals. But, the general manager says, part of the idea behind the nonprofit Panera is to treat everyone equally. And that includes kids.
â€œYou donâ€™t want to assume someone is homeless or assume someone can afford to pay extra. We really canâ€™t judge,â€ she says.
Also, Singler says it would be a mistake to judge the Hollywood Panera by its 65 percent of retail revenue.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s a failure that weâ€™re in the 60s,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s not a failure, itâ€™s a success.â€
Itâ€™s also a challenge. From Paneraâ€™s Boston corporate offices Antonacci says, â€œWeâ€™re saying, â€˜OK, Portland, Hollywood community, you want us to stay here and view us as an asset to your community. You have to step up and do the right thing. And the right thing for each person is different.â€™ â€