An experiment in charity fails

It seemed like a good idea when it got its start. Panera started several stores in which people could pay whatever they want. The idea was some people would pay more to help those who had little choice but to pay less.

Nice, right?

Now the update: it didn’t work.

Panera is closing the last Panera Cares store — the one in Boston — because they’re no longer “viable,” according to a statement from the company.

What happened?

Panera founder Ron Shaich tells Planet Money that employees started profiling customers, determining how much people should pay based on how they looked or the color of their skin.

“Our whole idea here was not simply to create another homeless shelter or another soup kitchen. It was actually to have a real meal, and a real meal with dignity,” he said.

But some customers — apparently the ones who could pay more — complained about those customers who couldn’t.

And employees were also faced with issues they were ill-equipped to confront such as mental health issues and drug use in bathrooms, according to Planet Money interview.