June 25, 2010; Source: Associate Press | A little over a month ago we reported on the opening of a nonprofit restaurant near St. Louis where customers decide how much to pay for their purchases, and already Panera Co. is making plans to expand to additional locations. The restaurant, which operates in Clayton, Mo., under the name St. Louis Bread Company Cares, has been doing better than what Ronald Shaich, the company’s chairman had expected, with nearly 85 percent of patrons paying full price or more for their orders.

And perhaps it’s not just the enjoyment of the meal that’s motivating them to pay that much, but rather knowing that Panera will donate any money left over after expenses to charity. Shaich told the Associated Press, “I guess I would say it’s performing better than we even might have hoped in our cynical moments, and it’s living up to our best sense of humanity.” Still, Shaich, said in the restaurant’s early days he had some worries, including the time he saw a teenage patron only ask his credit card to be charged for a fraction of the $40 in sandwiches he’d ordered. Said, Shaich, “You get a little bummed out, and you wonder whether people will get it.”

Since then, people must be getting it, as Panera is moving ahead with plans to open two more restaurants in the coming months. As he puts it, “The fascinating question to me is: Can we take our skills—our core competencies, as we call them in business—and apply them very directly to solving some of [society’s] problems. And not just for publicity, but to make a difference.”—Bruce Trachtenberg