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Panera Cares Stirs Up Safety Concerns, Police Deny Increased Activity

Lake View and Lincoln Park residents say the area is getting "seedy" after the "pay what you can" restaurant opened in the summer.

Lake View-area residents are growing more vocal about a new neighborhood restaurant that may be drawing a questionable crowd to the affluent community.

Panera Cares, a new concept by Panera Bread Co., allows diners to pay what they can, meaning if patrons don’t have any money, the meal is free. The restaurant opened on June 21 on Diversey Parkway near Clark Street, and ever since, locals say a “seedy” crowd has flooded the neighborhood.

During the August South East Lake View Neighborhood Association meeting, Lake View residents complained about the uptick in homeless-looking individuals visiting the area for a free meal. However, a representative with Ald. Tom Tunney’s (44th) office said there hadn’t been a recorded increase, but the alderman was monitoring the area carefully.

"...I know Panera is concerned. They want to make it successful for the neighborhood and for the company.”

However, according to Tunney, Panera is aware of the potential problem, and it’s currently a work in progress.

“It’s kind of a live-and-let-live corner,” Tunney told CBS Chicago. The Panera Cares concept “is a work in progress, and I know Panera is concerned. They want to make it successful for the neighborhood and for the company.”

Tunney recommends if residents see any unusual activity that they take a photo and send it both to him and Panera’s headquarters. And according to CBS Chciago, the Department of Family and Support Services has been enlisted to help with homeless in the area.

The Panera Cares concept was launched just two years ago, and there are only five locations in the United States, including the one on Diversey in Chicago. The others are located in Clayton, MO, Dearborn, MI and Portland, OR.

“The vision for the Panera Cares cafe is to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities,” explained Ron Shaich, Founder, Chairman and co-CEO of Panera Bread Company, and President of the Panera Bread Foundation. “The Foundation developed these community cafes to make a difference by helping to address the food insecurity issues that affect millions of Americans.”

To read more reaction from Lake View residents, visit CBS Chicago.

LollysR October 12, 2012 at 01:59 PM
When CBS did a story on this, they said the crime statistics show a spike since June. Which is true?
Rachel October 12, 2012 at 08:04 PM
I live near this intersection, and there has always been a small population of homeless people, panhandlers, etc. who have hung around (piano guy!). I have not noticed any significant increase since the Panera changed their store.

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