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Panera Cares Speaks Out on Taxes, Neighborhood Safety

The Chicago “pay what you can” restaurant aimed at helping the less fortunate is answering questions after locals say they’ve had enough.

After seemingly endless complaints at neighborhood association meetings and online, Panera Cares representatives made an appearance in Lake View Monday night to address residents’ questions about the new business, specifically about safety and potential tax loopholes.

Sitting at 616 W. Diversey Pkwy, Panera Cares is one of four new non-profit versions of the popular restaurant chain Panera Bread in the nation. However, Panera Cares allows customers to only pay what they can, and if they don’t have any money, they can do things like sweeping floors to receive a free meal.

Panera officials attended a South East Lake View Neighbors meeting Monday where residents and reporters asked the group questions. And when confronted with internet rumors that the company was looking to transition its restaurants to non-profits to reap tax benefits, Panera Bread Area Director Jeff Harman said this is the first time Panera has been confronted with these rumors.

“Tax questions have not come up in other locations,” Harman said. “…An email I received earlier was the first instance that I was confronted about tax. I can assure you there is no elaborate plan (to exploit tax loopholes). Panera Cares is a non-profit foundation. But that’s about all the information I have about tax at this time.”

Harman said he’d return with more detail about taxes at the group’s next meeting.

“We want to try to be a good neighbor, and part of that is getting out in the community to get in front of this.”

And while some were concerned with tax issues, many other residents had questions about neighborhood safety. Store Manager Devin Mitchell said the store has only been active as non-profit for just four months, so she doesn’t have any data about a potential uptick in crime surrounding the restaurant. Police also say they haven’t noticed a trend in reports.

However, Panera did have data about the type of customers that visit the store. Bob Kykan, an employee who has managed three of the four Panera Cares locations in the nation, says customer trends are relatively the same at all four stores. About 20 percent of patrons pay more than the cost of their meal, 60 percent pay the normal rate and the remaining 20 percent pays less than the cost of their meal.

And according to Kykan, Panera Cares is taking neighborhood safety and cleanliness seriously after complaints started to surface.

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“A few of us managers over the past month since attending the CAPS meeting have started to do neighborhood walks,” Kykan said. “So on my walk, I cover certain blocks that people have expressed concern in… We go all the way down Diversy toward the lake, and two blocks north and south of Diversey. And we go down Clark and Broadway two blocks in each way to look for patrons who are aggressively panhandling.”

Kykan said the managers and volunteers also pick up litter lining the streets during their walks. The neighborhood patrols are in combination with increased number of security cameras in the store and new combination locks on bathroom doors to reduce security threats at the restaurant.

“We’re trying to get in front of this,” Harman said. “We want to try to be a good neighbor, and part of that is getting out in the community to get in front of this.”

The group says residents with concerns can report them via the Panera Cares website.

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Adam October 09, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I'm boycotting Panera for this reason. Whats to keep a drunk college kid coming from coming in there on a Saturday morning and not wanting to spend his Daddy's monthly allowance $$$ on food because he needs to save it for beer money for that weekend? Gooooood Grief Panera...this is a terrible Idea. I live 2 blocks from here and ate here often. It is sketchy outside this place now. People are taking advantage of this.
Andy Ambrosius (Editor) October 09, 2012 at 06:59 PM
I also live just two blocks away, and – to be honest – it actually has gotten pretty sketchy. Did you see the photo I attached to the article above of the woman sleeping outside the store? She's come up to me multiple times, getting more than a little too close for comfort, to ask for money. That's too aggressive for me.
Veronica October 09, 2012 at 11:29 PM
That lady laying down kept telling my 2 year old daughter to "come sit on my lap pretty girl" while I was standing outside on a nice day waiting for my pizza persona to be finished. not.happy
Andy Ambrosius (Editor) October 09, 2012 at 11:35 PM
You have GOT to be kidding me.... That's very, very scary! Hopefully Panera is actually doing their patrols like they said, because that kind of stuff – while I understand is somewhat out of their hands – is frightening.
Debbie October 10, 2012 at 09:59 AM
I went to the Panera Cares website to report concerns (as indicated in the article above), and there was no obvious way to do so. I live in the area, and now avoid walking on that side of the street, or even anywhere near there. They have lost my business, and I am not alone. This is harming our neighborhood.
LollysR October 11, 2012 at 02:33 AM
The Panera representatives at the SELVN meeting were about as I expected. A bit tunnel visioned. There is a clear "contact us" link on their website. The CBS report stated that there was a spike in crime since June, but there is no way of proving it is a result of Panera Cares. That is a big difference, and shows that it is only a matter of perception. I’m worried about my property values, and I’m not going to feel guilty about that; I’ve worked long and hard for the little that I have, and the "affluent" label is misleading. This affects two neighborhoods and two precincts, which might be why crime statistics are being misinterpreted.
Amy G. October 16, 2012 at 08:47 PM
I have been working in this neighborhood for 10yrs and Panera has been one of my "go to" places for lunch. During the time they were closed for what I thought was remodeling, I saw this lady handing out free coffee, bread, etc. I was curious so I went over to ask what's going on with Panera since I've never seen her working there before. So she explain to me how they were transitioning it to Panera Cares. Instantly, what came to mind was there's going to be alot of homeless people taking advantage of this or abusing it. After months of avoiding that place, I have decided to give them a chance two weeks ago because I was craving for their clam chowder soup. The minute I stepped in, it gave me this very uncomfortable vibe. All the employees were not working. They were just standing there talking and laughing loudly. I don't see those familiar faces behind the counter that I have seen for 10yrs. I just left without buying anything. I used to love the atmosphere there. Even had couple of lunch dates there with my back then boyfriend, now husband. It's sad but that will be my last time.
NiceLadyK November 05, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Really guys? Really? I visited this location and my experience was wonderful. There were a couple of "poor looking" people enjoying their food. But I didn't feel threatened or unsafe at all. The food was great and the service was outstanding! It's unfortunate what some of you have experienced. But can you really attribute this to Panera Cares? This is a great opportunity to give back to folks that are less fortunate. The Lakeview community should encourage acts of such, not discourage them. This is exactly what keeps Chicago one of the most segregated cities in the world!!!
NiceLadyK November 06, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Excuse me??? To accuse me of being either "delusional" or "troll" is down right offensive! I didn't personally attack anyone nor did I act as though I was insensitive to others experience. Based off MY experience, it was fine! Have I gotten better service from other places... sure! Being "food secure" customer, I realize there are other options out there and I don't eat there often. However, I do shop with them once a week or so to support their cause. I can't attest to the cleanliness of the bathrooms or dining areas or "loud thugs". On the other hand, I see workers behind the counter that seems to be genuinely friendly. I witnessed a manager treating a "food insecure" person in a very dignified and kind way. I, myself, donated a extra $$$ to help support his meal and was given a couple of pastries in return! Isn't thats what America is all about, folks? Yes, there are other restaurants that offer great food to satisfy your tastes. But YOU are not the target audience of Panera Cares. Think about it... They are offering hot soup and sandwiches to those who may have not eaten at all that day! Who cares about "The Culinary Experience". There are folks out here that have been disenfranchised, for what ever reason, and just need food. You sound like a very self centered, condescending, out-of-touch person if you ask me. If you don't like Panera, simply don't shop there! The next time I visited, I will be sure to donate a extra buck for your bagel and coffee.

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