May 21, 2011; Source: | Thanks to rising interest in its experiment, Panera Bread Co. now operates two other nonprofit bakeries, in addition to the one that opened last year outside of St. Louis. Back then, observers greeted the venture with both hope and skepticism. The original Panera Cares in Clayton, Mo., like newer ones in Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore., lets patrons decide how much to pay for their food.

“Amazing,” said Ron Shaich, company executive chairman. “The cynics said we’d never make it.” Since opening a year ago, however, the Clayton cafe has begun turning a profit, which said is estimated to be a “couple thousand dollars a month.” That money is supporting a job-training program operated by Covenant House, a shelter that serves homeless and at-risk kids.

So far, three young people from Covenant House comlpeted a 12-week internship program at the cafe, then were hired to work in other of the company’s outlets. Commenting on what he observed about the program’s first participants, Brooke Porter, the cafe’s manager, said, “Their transformation from Day 1 to the end was just incredible. It was the confidence in knowing that someone was giving them a chance to grow.”

Shaich says he hopes to open a new nonprofit cafe about every four months around the country. “We’re going to continue to open them as long as they continue to work,” he said. “We want to do this. This is good stuff.”—Bruce Trachtenberg