Bread, coffee and the business of change

Home-baked bread & coffee

I love Panera Bread Co.  I love their coffee, their bread, and since they’re located about 60 seconds from my office, I love the convenience. Recently, I found another reason to like Panera. The company has opened a cafe in St. Louis with an unusual mission.  The food at Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Cafe is free. Well, sorta free.  Patrons who can pay are encouraged to do so; those who cannot, may have a free meal. In a story in USA Today, writer Bruce Horovitz, explains:

“Imagine walking into a Panera Bread and picking out anything you wanted to eat or drink — then, at the end of the line, instead of handing your money to a cashier, you faced a donation box. What would you do if you knew that some of the money you placed in the box would be used to train at-risk youths or to feed folks lacking funds to feed themselves?”

(Read the whole story here: )

The company is trying a great social experiment, a gamble some would say.  Do you think it will work?  Would you be willing to pay so that others might have bread?

All over corporate America, big businesses and small businesses are learning that monetary profit — as important as it is to economic viability — is not the only way a company can be “profitable.”  Being generous with one’s fortune, being a good steward of one’s environment or being a giving member of one’s community is not only possible, but it’s catching on.

Of course, cynics might say that businesses are doing it just to drive customers into their stores. Maybe they are.  Maybe they’re not. But does that matter if a community benefits?  To me, it sounds like a win-win.  In fact, doesn’t that mean that  being a good neighbor, contributing to and enhancing the lives of others might be good for a business’ bottom line.

Dennis Tracx (’78), CEO of Barista on Demand, a coffee company, thinks so. So does  Matt Carasella (’03), photographer and organizer of Little Shutterbugs.  For Dennis, it’s a coffee company committed to rain forest preservation, and for Matt, it’s photographers aiding the education of underprivileged children.  Both of their enterprises benefit the greater good.  You can read more about Dennis and Matt at the Be the Change website

Last May, JMU’s Class of 2010 heard about another socially-conscious business when TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie spoke at the senior convocation during graduation week. From TOMS Shoes website: In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. One for One. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by TOMS customers. You can read more about TOMS Shoes at and at

Looking out for the less fortunate is also practiced here in Harrisonburg. In another post, I’ll tell you about a JMU student whose community service bested more than 10,000 students across the nation to earn a prestigious Pearson Prize. (So stay tuned!)

Using a business to feed a hungry community, to shod shoeless children or to improve the environment is all good.  The motivation doesn’t matter.  What matters is the gumption to try it, risk it and to take the steps to change the landscape for someone else.

So, what businesses do you know that are helping to improve the world?


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Bread, coffee and the business of change

  1. Pingback: Bread, coffee and the business of change « James Madison … | Barista Training

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