We always try to find places that allow healthy eating options while we travel and Panera often is our go-to place. The sandwiches as you know are fresh tasting, their soups hot and satisfying and their salads interesting.
Their prices have definitely seemed to increase recently and we rarely go there for a full meal. Often we will split a you pick two, or just have the soup and bread which usually will tide us over until a late afternoon protein bar and fruit break.
The interiors are usually quite bright and comfortable and I find the coffee to be quite satisfying and the 99 cent cookie upgrade with a meal is a delicious treat.
For those travelers near Dearborn for whom The Henry Ford is the prime destination have two Panera options to choose from. One is the Panera located at 3112 Fairlane Drive, near shops and many of the hotels off the I-94 expressway.
The other one is Panera Cares Community Cafe, a non-profit Panera located right in downtown West Dearborn at 22208 Michigan Avenue. This is one of only three Panera Cares Community Cafe's located in the entire US, so you might not be familiar with the concept. Essentially, it is a pay-as-you-can location run by the Panera Foundation. Patrons are encouraged to pay full price or a bit over if they are able, so that customers who may be experiencing economic difficulties can have a discounted meal. Customers who are absolutely not able to pay are requested to volunteer at the restaurant in exchange for the meal.
Bread for sandwiches and to accompany soup are baked fresh right there at the restaurant. Bread and bakery items sold on their own are day old from other Panera restaurants, and are priced a bit cheaper than at a traditional Panera, but we have never experienced any significant dips in quality. It is a great place to grab a bag of rolls or bread for a picnic or for the car ride home.
I really enjoy the economic diversity at the restaurant and it is great to see professionals discussing sales projections, college students studying, families have a snack, and individuals who might not ordinarily have a cup of hot soup or fresh salad served in a pleasant, well-lit restaurant sharing the same dining experience.
The first time I paid it was a bit confusing as you give your order to the clerk, they tell you the suggested donation, then pay right into a small glass receptacle by the cash register. They will give you cash back if you have a larger bill and you can use a credit card, but I don't believe you can get cash back from a gift card.
It is truly a one-of a kind restaurant in Michigan and the mission to provide high quality food to individuals experiencing food insecurity is one I appreciate. I hope everyone living or travelling in metro- Detroit can stop by this Panera Cares Cafe and leaves a little bit extra to help those in need.
Traveling can become a bit insulated at times, when the smallest inconvenience can be frustrating. Panera Cares can help one be a bit more grounded and is a reminder at what a luxury travel is and how it is to be savored with gratitude.
For a passionate video of Panera founder Ron Shaich at Tedx St. Louis explaining the mission of Panera Cares Cafes http://paneracares.org/our-mission/