Politics

Panera Bread Proves the Failure of Socialism

“Investing time into an actual person in order to better their lives takes real effort.”

I always find true pleasure in watching as liberals put their policies into action only to discover that they are simply not sustainable. Talking to them about the failures of socialism is like trying to explain to a small child that they cannot fly. The only difference is that a child cannot grasp concepts outside of their immediate vision while liberals simply ignore the concepts which do not support their beliefs.

In this case the story involves the restaurant Panera Bread. As a side note, their soup and sandwich meals are amazing, if slightly overpriced. It is on that note that this article begins.

Circa 2010, Panera decided to conduct a social experiment on the blessings of socialism. Founder and CEO, Ron Shaich, opened a store in a very affluent neighborhood in Chicago that ran off of a pay what you want model. In order to free himself from the requirements to make a profit for the shareholders, he turned the store over to the Panera Bread Foundation, the tax-exempt wing of the Panera company. The business model was to essentially shame the affluent members of the neighborhood into subsidizing meals for those who were poor.

The Chicago Tribune wrote an article singing the praises of the concept. In the article they noted, “… the Lakeview location is ideal for a community store because there are ‘million-dollar townhomes and people on the street,’ meaning there are customers who can help support the cafe and those who can benefit from a free meal.”

I believe that it is important to note that the intent behind the social experiment was very altruistic. Shaich was attempting to make a meaningful impact in the lives of those who were destitute.

In addition to the free meal, Panera also reached out to the community in other ways as well. Again, the Tribune noted, “Shaich said the foundation, of which he is also president, gives the money to social service organizations that provide job training for at-risk youth. Panera hires those who have received the training.”

Finally, the Tribune made sure to let everyone know how successful the enterprise had been, stating that the three test restaurants they had opened were all turning a profit.

So, what has changed over the past five years? The Chicago Tribune sums it up succinctly in an article written on January 4, 2018, “Panera Bread pay-what-you-want cafe near St. Louis to close.” In fact, out of the seven locations opened up throughout the country, only one remains. From the Tribune:

“In the seven years since, ‘we served probably a half-million meals through this cafe, all at no set prices, as a gift to the community,’ Shaich said in a phone interview with the Post-Dispatch. He said customers paid, on average, about 85 percent of the suggested price, proving, he said, ‘that people are fundamentally good.’ ‘We loved it, it worked well, it proved that the idea would work,’ Shaich said.”

No Shaich, it didn’t. That is why the stores have virtually all shut their doors. Luckily we can still learn from the failure.

Investing time into an actual person in order to better their lives takes real effort.

I believe that it is important to note that the intent behind the social experiment was very altruistic. Shaich was attempting to make a meaningful impact in the lives of those who were destitute. Unfortunately for him, and liberals in general, he failed to see the unintended consequences of such actions.

Asking those who have the means to reach out and help others is part of American culture, but there is a fundamental problem with running this sort of operation. In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida. The military police company I was assigned to rushed down to South Florida to help manage the relief efforts. There was no lack of people who were there seeking aid, the only problem was that only a portion of them were actually affected and in need.

Many of those filling their vehicles with food and other supplies never saw a drop of rain from the storm. They simply saw an opportunity to get something for nothing and took full advantage of it. It is for this reason that most conservatives would rather support programs where they affect meaningful and permanent change in a person’s life while mandating personal responsibility as part of the message.

Of course, when you offer meals for nothing, you end up effecting other businesses as well. Most businesses make profits not out of greed, but to provide for themselves, their employees, and their families. When you open a Pay What You Think Your Fair Share Is business, you create an entity that others simply cannot compete with.

Unless you are forcing people to provide their tax returns with their meals, there is simply no way for Panera to discern who can pay or how much is their fair share. Therefore, people who can pay simply don’t. This is a large motivator when determining where to go and eat. Why pay $10 for a decent meal when I get a comparable meal for $5?

There were other more direct issues that came from this model. One of them was the transient population that the restaurant was attempting to help in the first place. All restaurants work on a simple concept of turnover. The eatery wants its consumers to enjoy their meal and then get out to make way for other paying customers. This is typically not a problem as most people have other competing responsibilities that make it unfeasible to spend an entire day sitting at dinner.

Such is not the case with the homeless. Here you are providing a good meal, free of any judgement, in a warm and clean environment. Where is the motivation to leave the establishment? This was the problem that the Portland, Oregon location started dealing with as early as 2012. Of course, being the bastion of liberal care and love that the city is, they, “hired a ‘community outreach manager,’ who will gently prod diners who have overstayed their welcome to leave.” The non-liberal definition of the outreach manager is a bouncer. Strangely enough, I couldn’t seem to find any more of these positions listed on the web. I guess that there was simply no need for a bouncer in the for-profit Panera locations.

The ultimate lesson here is give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life. Reaching out in insignificant ways in order to address a problem only creates more problems.

This population effects the local economy just as much as the free food effects local restaurants. The fact is that homelessness is often the fruition of other problems. Alcoholrehab.com cites that 38% of the homeless abuse alcohol and 26% abuse other drugs. Additionally, nationalhomeless.org claims that up to 25% of homeless are mentally ill. I believe that, especially in the case of those who are mentally ill, we need to find a way to take care of these people.

With that being said, I would not want my wife or children to go into neighborhoods overrun with them either. This is called being proactive about their safety, although some would try to frame it as some sort of bias.

If I am going to let my children go to a movie or shopping by themselves, I am going to ensure that they go somewhere that they will be safe, or at least as safe one can be while out on the street. If I believe that if there is a chance they are going to walk into a neighborhood where there is even the slightest chance they will be accosted, I will not allow them to go. I care more for their wellbeing than I do for hurting someone else’s self-esteem.

The ultimate lesson here is give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life. Reaching out in insignificant ways in order to address a problem only creates more problems.

The reason why people do it is that it is much easier to throw money at an issue and call it solved. Investing time into an actual person in order to better their lives takes real effort. It means that you will have to accept defeat from those who simply do not want to take responsibility for their own lives.

Maybe Panera can help others by teaching them from their failure.

Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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