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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Countdown to hard feelings

The Panera bakery restaurant tucked into the old 24 Hour Fitness building next to Trader Joe's in the Hollywood District of NE Portland announced this week that they're going to make paying for meals there optional. Apparently, they've done this in a couple of other cities as well.

In these hard times, it's good to take care of the less fortunate. And mixing in paying customers with soup kitchen patrons is an interesting concept. In theory, it will take away the stigma of the free chow line, and give the more generous members of the community the chance to pay a little extra for a good meal and support the weaker among us at the same time.

But we'll forgive those who are expressing skepticism about this. The Portland location is right on the crime-coincident MAX train line. The neighbors were given no notice that the change was going to happen. It seems that nobody's really thought through the suitability of this location for high-impact social services. But it's going to happen, starting Sunday. Those who don't like it can take a hike.

Given the hassles that have come up at every free meal hall in the central city, there's no reason to think that this experiment isn't going to have its rough moments. Good luck to everyone over there, both pro and con.

Comments (15)

In theory, I think this is a great idea. I'm interested to know, however, if they have any policies to keep someone from, say, showing up there every day for every meal. People are desperate, and starving. If someone's offering free food, it's irrational behavior to decline it, right? I just hope this works out.

The disturbing aspect of this situation is that as noble as it is to feed the homeless, that really doesn’t help the problem. Perhaps Panera should also house them and give them medical help. The homeless community is represented by many different needs. Mental health issues with drug and alcohol addiction abound. Creating another magnet for clustering this community without providing the other needed services is not in the best interests of the homeless population or the Hollywood business district. I hope that folks that live in the low income housing complex near Panera take full advantage of the free meals. There has to be 200 residents there. That would require a lot of free meals to be given away. Perhaps this will inspire Panera to rethink their offer.

You would think that within six months there will be only a few paying customers, and a line out the door.

They may not loose money like you think...

Cafe owner thrives with no-pricing policy

Like others here, I like the idea in concept but I think there could be some unintended consequences. Does their landlord know what they are doing? Why wasn't any community outreach done to let neighbors know what they are considering? How does Trader Joe's feel about a "soup kitchen" opening up next door to them? How do the employees feel about it? What does it mean (if anything) that we're now in the same company as Dearborn, MI and Clayton, MO in having one of these?

I hope it succeeds. It is the sort of thing Portlanders like to think they can get behind. If they still offer the same quality of food and free WiFi, and if there aren't too many scruffy characters having loud arguments with the voices in their heads that would scare my kids, then I'll likely keep frequenting it and paying full fare to support the good work they're trying to do.

It is easy to find out reasons not to help and to pontificate about the real solutions. I operate on the ability to do what I can and when I can. When a diabetic is crashing I give them some glucose, I don't start a lecture on loosing weight or counting calories. In a car crash I stop the bleeding, not walk away because they were reckless. There are thousands of diabetics and reckless drivers out there. I only deal with the ones that I run into on my walk of life. I would never have donated to the sisters of the road cafe, but Jack put it in my path on Buck a Hit Day. I get a news letter from them and I don't agree with all they do. But until its in my path to fix, I'll let them worry about the small stuff. Maybe some mental with abuse issues will get fed a couple of times before being shot down by your Police.

They may not lose money like you think...

The link you provided is about a business that lets the customer decide what the meal is worth, and expects that they're basically going to be fair - and in fact the owner stated that even though some were over and some under, at the end of the day, it worked out about even.

An optional payment scheme is an entirely different matter. And the two business models will be entirely different.

Interesting. Maybe it will relieve downtown of some of the "creative class" on the sidewalks.

I'm interested to see how this works out. I don't think the issue would be the homeless per se as some of the marginal youth, freegans, etc. There is a lack of shame among some twenty-somethings in Portland with taking hand-outs, being on foodstamps, etc.

Remember that article about the young Portlanders using their foodstamps at the farmers market? College educated people with little shame about living off of handouts. I think this place might actually attract people who could otherwise actually pay, but will choose not to, or to under pay, because they feel no shame about it.

I hope it succeeds.

I wonder what "success" would look like.

Pretty nuanced I'll bet.

Probably those who now, or in the future, find opposition to this will demand that CoP apply Title 33 zoning codes. Conditional Use Review is probably in order since services like this requires CUR.

But it might be like Leonard's Food Cart practices-overlook the codes until things get out of hand, or a few well placed individuals make inquiries.

This might work. I like Panera but have tended to avoid it because their prices do not represent good value in my estimation (a sandwich, cup of soup and beverage can easily run $12, higher than many mom-and-pop delis). If I could pay what I honestly think the food is worth - the above example would be about $8 to $10 - I would eat there more often and they would likely make more money off me as a result. In other words it would become more of a volume-based profit model like McDonald's. Then again, they might be grossly underestimating the number of chronic freeloaders in the Portland area. It might work better in some places than in others.

Speaks loads about what all that Urban Renewal has done for the demographics in Hollywood.

An article I read said the following about some of the other non-profit locations -- one of which is in a nice suburb of St. Louis.
"According to the foundation, 60 to 70 percent of the customers at the first two cafes pay in full. Another 15 percent pay more, and 15 percent less or nothing."


That business the CNN article references is closed. It closed shortly after the article ran according to someone who used to go there.


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