Losing Panera Cares in Dearborn

It is with great sadness that I write about the closing of Panera Cares in Dearborn. Readers of this blog will know how greatly I admired the actual location on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, but also the innovative hybrid business model.

It was a true community gathering space, where a  cross section of Metro-Detroiters would mingle. Students, families, retirees, business people, the unemployed-of a wide variety of racial and socio-economic categories would enjoy a hot cup of coffee and comforting soup all based on your ability to pay. If you could afford to, you were asked to chip in a little extra, if you were struggling financially, you could get a meal and were asked to volunteer your time. The staff were always so friendly and welcoming, helping to create a convivial community atmosphere.

A family travelling could stop in and get a delicious day old loaf of bread or bagels for a snack on the long car ride back to Ohio, Illinois or Kentucky after visiting family, or the historical sites.

Metro Detroit seemed like such a wonderful location for a Panera Cares, the combination of midwestern pragmatism and down to earth community sensibilities, but unfortunately the economic realities of bills and rent supposedly became too much at this time. 

Although the Panera Cares website states that there are no new locations being considered at this time, I am holding onto hope that this great idea is simply a few years ahead of its time.

In November, the time when late fall yields to winter and we prepare for the long chill ahead, when we both remember our losses and give thanks for the harvest, those of us fortunate to travel might give pause to recall the many in America for whom food security is a daily struggle. 

Check out the PaneraCares.org website for more info on food security and to watch Ron Shaich speak at Tedx St. Louis. 

Family Questions for Discussion

1. What is food insecurity?

2.  How many American's are reportedly affected by food insecurity?

3. What are some of the family travel experiences for which you are most thankful?

4. What are some of the best ways to foster gratitude while you are travelling?

5. What is the Panera Cares "business" model?

6. Could it work for other restaurants or types of businesses?

Lunch at Panera Cares-Dearborn

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/