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In a nutshell, Panera opened a new non-profit store in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. It looks and feels like any Panera except the prices are different. There aren’t any. You pay what you feel is fair or whatever you can afford.

A skeptic could come up with any number of reasons to question a project like this. It doesn’t make good business sense. It could eat into business at the for-profit stores. It’s not a long-term growth strategy. An optimist, on the other hand, might argument that it’s brilliant. Showing that Panera cares about the community. Conveying it’s a brand with a social conscience. Endearing itself to the thousands of customers who won’t merely patronize the café but will turn into vocal advocates for the idea.

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