After working out some kinks at its Portland, Ore. pay-what-you-want cafe last year, Panera Bread Co. is now planning to convert at least two more bakery-cafes to its nonprofit model this year.
Kate Antonacci, a Panera spokeswoman, said the company hopes to open one more by early summer and another by early fall in yet-to-be-disclosed locations around the country.
"We'll play it by ear after that if there will be a third this year," she said, noting that the plan is to ideally open one such cafe every three or four months.
The company's foundation opened the first store under this model in Clayton in May 2010. At these cafes, patrons are asked to pay a recommended price, but can pay whatever amount they want to, with the net proceeds from the cafe going to fund a charitable cause such as job-training programs for at-risk youth.
Sunset Hills-based Panera followed that first experimental cafe with two more in Dearborn, Mich. and Portland, Ore.
Last year, Panera initially had some problems at the Portland location with not as many people paying as needed to cover the costs. But Antonacci said the Portland cafe is now doing "great" and is one of the better performing cafes of the three.
"We spent a lot of time retraining people out there and building relationships with the people," she said. "The Hollywood community (a Portland neighborhood) has embraced what we're trying to do and we've seen a drastic shift."
Antonacci said they took a step back last year, too, to see whether the model was working and could support more growth.
"The success of those cafes is the currency we needed to be able to grow more of them," she said. "After watching these for the last year and working out the kinks, we feel comfortable expanding at this point."