Knights of the Round Table Hold Court at Gahanna Panera Bread

Tom Dove can’t quite remember the year that he was dubbed a knight.

Dennis Evans, another knight, said it was a few years before 2001 because he, Dove and the other members of their order were at their round table at the Panera Bread Restaurant in Gahanna, Ohio, when they learned of the 911 Disaster.

“We shared that and so many other things with each other over the years,” Dove said.

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Dove, Evans and others have been dubbed “Knights of the Roundtable” – the Panera Round table – because they come to the restaurant between 7:15 a.m. and 8 a.m. every single day and often linger until noon. They talk about sports, their families, occasionally, politics, but never work.

Panera staffers are always ready for the men and place a special “Knights of the Round Table” reserved sign on their table, which sits right in the middle of the restaurant.

“The most amazing thing is that we walk into the door and they already know what we want and have it ready,” Dove said.

None of the Knights knew each other before meeting at Panera, but now view each other as family and worry when someone doesn’t show up for a day or two. “If we don’t see someone for a day or two, we will call and make sure that everything is OK,” Dove said. “We know if one of them is going through a hard time and we are there for each other.”

Dove said new Knights are always welcome. The only requirement for knighthood is to show up and to agree not to talk shop.  Dove said the knights all have different jobs and some have the flexibility of working remotely which means they can work right from their round table.

“It’s a way to start your day in a relaxed mode. You have something good to eat and drink. And it’s an environment where we can be ourselves,” Evans said.

“We try to make it be a spot where no one has to be onstage or judged. We have always tried to make it a comfortable, relaxing place to be,” Evans said.

In addition to their relationships with each other, the knights have also developed strong connections to the Panera staffers in Gahanna.

Chrysta Harsh, manager of the Gahanna Panera Bread, said she views the Knights as part of her family.  “To me, I consider the Round Table like my crazy uncles. They have jokes. Lots of jokes,” she said. “Tom has the great advice to help you through any situation you are in.” She said each of the Knights offers something different, with another knight providing business advice, including the admonition not to run out of chocolate chip cookies.

When Evans walks in every morning, Panera staffers will already be getting his order ready. In fact, one staffer picks the type of bagel he will have that day and Evans has made countless suggestions to management about everything from menu additions to staffing needs.

Rachel Hackenberg, assistant manager of the Panera Bread in Gahanna, said the Knights treat her, other staffers and customers with respect and are amazing additions to the restaurant..

“We always joke around with them saying Gahanna is their store and we call them our boss,” Hackenberg said.  “We know their order already, how dark they like their bagels and how many butters they get on the side and especially to NEVER give them their receipt.”

Hackenberg said new employees are taken to the Knights’ table and formally introduced. “Sometimes the Knights don’t even feel like customers; they are just part of your family.”

Harsh agreed, “No matter the person, no matter the time of day, these guys have our backs with our career and our personal life and anyone would be lucky to know them.”

Columbus nonprofit seeks to help domestic violence victims

wells-quotePanera plays important role in woman’s journey to help others

Michelle Wells has what sounds like a simple goal for women: She hopes they can love themselves.

The Columbus woman, who has founded a non-profit organization to deliver services to victims of domestic violence, believes that it is critical for women to love themselves in order to escape domestic violence.

Michelle, who herself is a survivor of domestic violence, was finally able to escape the cycle of abuse when she started loving herself.

But it wasn’t an easy transition.

“For me, I was upper-class living life behind closed doors and it took me five or six times to leave and when I left, I went from upper class to poverty overnight,” she said.

Her non-profit, “Love Me Like a Princess” helps women make the transition from their husbands’ to their own lives.

The nonprofit offers women assistance with obtaining cellular phones and monthly rent. Love Me Like a Princess also helps women access various therapies and assists with education, including everything from etiquette and how to dress to traditional college or trade school.

“I lost everything in the divorce,” she said.

She said many women stay in violent relationships because of financial reasons.

Love Me Like A Princess has identified a bold mission: Our goal is to speed up the process of healing by providing proven resources and referrals to move forward the process from Victim to Survivor to Thriver.”

Covelli Enterprises and Panera Bread have been an integral part of both Michelle’s transformation as well as supporting her goal to assist other women. In August, Michelle hosted Love Me Like A Princess’ first seminar for victims of domestic violence at the Lane Avenue Panera Bread on OSU’s campus. Panera Bread donated all the food for the event.

“Panera Bread has been a huge part of my journey and, in time, it became my sanctuary of peace. I started my journey meeting individuals in Panera to discuss my passion of changing laws. I interviewed survivors of domestic violence in Panera’s all across Ohio,” she said. “It not only gave us a place of safety, but it was also a place where we could talk in a peaceful environment. Panera has supplied me a venue where I can discuss my plans to bring this vision alive. I love Panera, it’s the only place I can go, where a mother can feed her twin toddlers, and the table next to them are individuals conducting a business meeting; all the while I am praying in my bubble. It is my sanctuary.”

For more information about Love Me Like a Princess, visit its website.

Listen in… Hear my remarks to our restaurant managers

I am not the kind of person who likes to speak in front of audiences.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad…I miss you Happy Father’s Day to All Dads!

The bronze statute of my father stands in the lobby of our headquarters in Warren. Even when the sun isn’t shining, my father, Albert Covelli, continues to cast a long shadow.

Poverty knows no restraint; St. Vincent tries to help those in need

In 2014, the Trumbull County St. Vincent De Paul Society served between 35,000 and 40,000 meals to people in need. It also offered food to nearly 1,000 families and sold goods at a thrift store at dramatically reduced prices.

Giving back keeps us busy

There is so much that I love and appreciate about operating Covelli Enterprises and Panera Bread restaurants and there’s no way that I could begin to explain all of them here.

We are products of place; Mahoning Valley has produced many legends

I am from Warren, Ohio and I can’t say enough good things about my hometown and the entire Northeast Ohio region. We have a resilient spirit and we’re proud people. We understand hard work and we appreciate opportunity.