After decades of building restaurants and growing a company, Sam Covelli is now sharing his thoughts about work, life and other issues.

Franchisee of the Year

covelli-top-awardI am humbled and deeply honored by the top award we just received from Panera Bread 

As a person who grew up in the food service industry, I know – first-hand – what it takes to create a quality experience for customers. It involves everything from ensuring you are serving great food to hiring quality people. Are your floors clean? Are your counters sparkling? Is your staff smiling? Are your customers satisfied and coming back? Are your windows clean? Is your marketing working? Do you have responsible food suppliers? Are you seizing opportunities for growth and expansion?

I could keep going, but I think you understand that it takes a lot.

Most of all, it takes a staff that is dedicated to excellence.

I am so proud to tell you that we have that kind of staff – people who care about what we do.

And I am not the only one who thinks this way.

Panera Bread, LLC, has awarded us franchisee of the year, the top award that a franchisee owner can receive from the Panera corporation.

We were presented the award in March 2017 at a ceremony in Nashville, Tenn. at Panera Bread’s “Family Reunion,” a gathering of Panera franchisees that is held once every five years.

I accepted the award on behalf of our Covelli Enterprises/Panera Bread family in front of thousands of general managers, district managers, and support staff on both the company and franchisee side. I still feel the excitement of that moment!

To say that I was proud to accept this award would be a dramatic understatement.

I couldn’t stop smiling because I know how significant this award is. It is given to Panera franchisees who achieve operational excellence, market/real estate growth, café openings, market acquisitions and financial metrics.

I am humbled and honored, but if I can be completely candid, I am not surprised.  We have a team that is second-to-none and customers who are an absolute joy to serve.

Panera joins Power Pack program to help childhood hunger

UPDATE: The Power Pack-a-thon was a major success – read the details here

power-pack-postDonate at Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky Panera restaurants

As the director of training for Covelli Enterprises/Panera Bread operations in the Cincinnati area, Ken Bloebaum works with hundreds of people each year and travels to the company’s 21 different Panera Bread restaurants in Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

But in all of his travels and work, he was not aware of one of the biggest problems plaguing the region where he lives and works: childhood hunger.

His eyes opened to the issue last year when he joined his co-workers in packing food for hungry children as part of the Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack-a-thon, which is being sponsored by Panera/Covelli Enterprises.

“Child hunger and food insecurity is a problem that doesn’t get talked about much and is much more prevalent than most of us realize,” Bloebaum said.

He and about 25 to 30 other Panera Bread associates will again spend Martin Luther King Day packing such items as sun butter, whole grain cereals, sunflower seeds, apple and oatmeal bars, complete pasta meals and other healthy options. The Power Packs are then sent home on every Friday during the school year to 5,000 children weekly between the ages of 6 and 12 who attend 100 different area schools.

In addition to the day of packing, Panera/Covelli will also be collecting funds for the Power Packs through coin boxes at each Panera cash register this winter. To donate to the effort, visit a Panera bakery-café in the Cincinnati region during January and February.

“The opportunity to address the issue of child hunger and food insecurity (even in this small way) makes me feel like I’m having a positive impact in my community,” Bloebaum said.

power-pack-post-2The Freestore Foodbank estimates that 94,000 children are among the 294,000 people at risk for hunger in the Cincinnati region.

Kurt Reiber, Freestore Foodbank president and chief executive officer, said support from Panera is critical for the effort.

“We truly appreciate Panera Bread’s continued support as we work to provide children with nutritious, easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends and schools vacations when other resources are not available. Together, we can solve hunger and ensure our children have the nutrition that they need to grow healthy and strong,” Reiber said.

The Freestore Foodbank’s long-term goals include decreasing childhood hunger, and it hopes to do this by expanding the Power Pack program.

Research has shown that hungry children do not perform well in school. “Through programs like Power Pack, the Freestore Foodbank provides more meals to children at times when they are most at risk for hunger. Everyone has a role in making sure every family member has enough to eat,” Reiber said.


Welcome Cincinnati!

We’re proud to have you as part of the family

Over the last few decades, our company has grown by purchasing new markets where Panera Bread restaurants have been operating.

We look at many factors when making the decision to buy. We consider such factors as the population and demographics of a region, and the location of the restaurants. But, there’s one other factor that’s critical to our decision-making process and that’s the people who are working in those restaurants. We want to be sure that the people will be a strong fit for the culture that we’ve created at Covelli Enterprises.

And it’s a lot deeper than whether they can follow the Panera protocol. We want to surround ourselves with people who care about their customers and their community.

When we purchased the Cincinnati group of 21 Panera bakery-cafes, we definitely got it right as far as the people are concerned.

For years, the Panera associates from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have been helping to address childhood hunger by working with the Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack program.

The Freestore Foodbank sends home weekend packs of food every Friday for 5,000 children who are at risk for hunger. And, the Cincinnati Panera employees and customers have been helping with this initiative by assembling the Power Packs and donating money that is so essential to this effort.

I am extremely proud to welcome the Cincinnati group to our growing Covelli family, and I look forward to supporting their work to help address such critical issues as childhood hunger.

Thank you, Cincinnati associates! You’ve already made us proud.


Confidence comes with your diploma

I have been blessed to receive many honors in my life, but quite honestly, one of the greatest happened in early December when I served as the commencement speaker at the winter graduation ceremony at Youngstown State University.

I was deeply humbled to stand before the 900 men and women who earned degrees from YSU. Some were the first in their families to graduate from college; others were parents who started college later in life.

As I stood at the podium, I tried to remember what it felt like to be sitting where they were. Frankly, it’s been a long time since I graduated from college, but I still can recall the feeling that somehow I was different from when I started.

It wasn’t that I had gained so much knowledge or insight.  Instead, it was far more intangible. I had learned a different way of thinking and I had also proven something to myself: I had battled through literature and science and courses that I was sure would never ever matter to me again only to discover that I had learned along the way.

It wasn’t the minutia about what battle was fought in what year or how to form a compelling argument or how various parts of the earth have different rocks that I was taking with me as a college graduate. Instead, it was the outlook that I had about myself that was different.

I believed then and still do now that I had it in me to figure things out and to accomplish. I gained confidence in college.

That same confidence is what I hope the 900 YSU graduates are taking with them from their years of studies. And that’s something that will last them a lifetime. It’s given me the courage to open new restaurants, to build a company that now employs thousands and to rank as the nation’s largest franchisee of Panera Bread restaurants.

I told the YSU graduates to stand proud but to also remember that everything from here forward is no longer part of a prescribed curriculum. Everything is now an elective.

I urged them to take responsibility for themselves and their future and to recognize that they – regardless of their pasts – stand on even ground with everyone else. Education is the great equalizer in life.

I asked them to stand tall and to stretch and I reminded them that confidence, coupled with a sense of social justice and humility, will propel them to achieve greatness and improve the lives of others.

Former Marine is grateful for friendships and kindness

Wounded Warriors Family Support Group helps Josh Sust buy truck


Josh Sust returned to his hometown of Cincinnati after serving with the U.S. Marine Corps with serious injuries, memories of terror and no regrets about serving his country.

In 2011, while serving with the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device struck Sust. The injuries were so severe that he, eventually, had to have his left leg amputated below his knee.

“It sucks that I am missing a leg, but I am OK and I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.

Sust, who wears a prosthetic, said he has developed amazing friendships through the military and the course of his physical recovery. In fact, he is now working at Abilities in Motion, the same place where he obtained his own prosthetic leg.

He is a technician and patient advisor for the Cincinnati-based prosthetic company.

“There are a lot of guys in my situation and we don’t regret anything.,” he said. “There are things you can do with your life. You can be depressed or hate life and drink your pain away. Or, you become a bigger and better person than you were before.”

Sust said a key part of his journey to recovery has involved being as mobile as possible. He has a track wheelchair which allows him to enjoy outdoor activities as he formerly did.

He, however, had a lot of trouble carrying the track chair in his car.  In 2015, he applied for funding from the Wounded Warriors Family Support group to help him buy a Ford F-150 truck. The organization, with support from businesses like Covelli Enterprises, gave Sust the funds he needed to complete a purchase.

“It was the best Christmas present ever,” Sust said. “I can get around and that’s so important to me.”

Covelli Enterprises President Sam Covelli said he is honored to support the Wounded Warriors Family Support group and soldiers like Sust. “Josh epitomizes the mantra of service above self. We, as a country, are deeply indebted to him and others like him who work to defend our freedoms.”


He took a few orders before customers began to recognize him. The celebrity came to Panera Bread as the final shot in what has been a six-week effort to raise funds for the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland. He and his parents dined at the Rocky River Panera with the winners of the Dinner with Delly raffle.

Before he sat down to eat, however, Dellavedova decided to have a little fun. With cameras capturing the 6’4” Australian’s every move, Dellavedova put on a wig, glasses and a name tag with the name “Hugh” and stood at an opening register.

“Hi. Welcome to Panera. What can I get for you?” he said to his first customer.

Without hesitation, the customer said, “Chinese chicken salad.”

The next customers were more discerning and recognized the good-humored

Dinner with Delly is one of several initiatives that Covelli Enterprises and Dellavedova launched to raise funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland.

Covelli Enterprises, the nation’s largest owner and operator of Panera Bread restaurants, renamed the Sierra Turkey sandwich, Dellavedova’s favorite, to the “Delly Pick.” Every “Delly Pick” purchased in the Cleveland bakery-cafes between May 1 and June 15 netted a donation for the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland.

Covelli Enterprises also donated profits to the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland from the sale of “Delly Trey” T-Shirts, printed by the Cleveland-based Fresh Brewed Tees.

Sam Covelli, owner and chief executive officer of Covelli Enterprises, said the work with Dellavedova has been rewarding on many fronts. “Dellavedova has made conscious choices to be a real role model. He is charitable, kind, funny and outgoing and, of course, talented. We so appreciate our work with him and admire his commitment to our communities. And we so appreciate the important work of The Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland.”

Before sitting down for dinner at the Rocky River Panera Bread cafe with his own parents and winners of the Dinner with Delly raffle, Matthew Dellavedova put on a disguise and waited on customers. Bill Ready won the raffle for Dinner with Delly and called the experience "awesome."

Before sitting down for dinner at the Rocky River Panera Bread cafe with his own parents and winners of the Dinner with Delly raffle, Matthew Dellavedova put on a disguise and waited on customers. Bill Ready won the raffle for Dinner with Delly and called the experience “awesome.”



Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland is a for-impact organization serving more than 8,000 youth at 15 locations. Boys & Girls Club provides safe, fun places for kids after school and during the summer.

In addition to the work with Panera, Dellavedova also went to Boys & Girls Club sites in Cleveland and talked with kids.

Ron Soeder, president and chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, said working with Dellavedova and Covelli Enterprises was a great experience.

“We are so grateful to Covelli and Delly for choosing Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland as the beneficiary of this promotion,” Soeder said.  “Covelli has been a great partner, and adding Delly to the mix truly made this a championship team.  Each kid who comes to one of our Clubs has the opportunity for a great future.  Companies like Covelli make that possible.”

The amount raised from the promotions with Delly for the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland is projected to be about $15,000 and will be used to provide reading, athletics, music, art and other programs for Boys & Girls Club kids.

Bill Ready of Cleveland won the Dinner with Delly raffle and described Dellavedova and the entire experience as “awesome.”

“They were genuine, polite people and were really easy to talk to. Honestly, the best way to describe the experience is similar to a really good first date! At first it was a little awkward as we asked each other random questions and tried to start a conversation, but after about 10 minutes, once the conversation started flowing, we just had a great time and there were no awkward moments,” Ready said. “Delly is down-to-earth, fun and enjoyable to be around. We were truly impressed.”

Ready said he really wanted to win because it was a rare opportunity to actually sit and talk with a super athlete. “Autographs and memorabilia don’t mean much to me, but a chance to hang out and talk with Delly was an amazing, unique opportunity,” he said.

Thank you, NAACP, for Believing in What We Do and For Recognizing Covelli Enterprise’s Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

Last week, I received an amazing honor. During its annual Freedom Fund dinner, The Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the NAACP, awarded me the Corporate Partner of the Year award.

ncaap-covelli-2Receiving this award from the nation’s oldest and best civil rights organization means so much to me.

While preparing my remarks for the dinner, I came across a quote from Lewis Cass, a politician and statesman who lived in the 1800s. He said, “People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.”

One of the reasons why I was so honored about the NAACP award is because the NAACP knows me and our organization, Covelli Enterprises.

The NAACP selected us for the Corporate Partner of the Year award because of the work that we have done creating a diverse and inclusive workforce at our 275 restaurants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida.

I am deeply touched by a comment that Constance Parker, president of the Pittsburgh NAACP made about us: “We applaud Covelli Enterprises for creating such a diverse and inclusive workforce and believe that other companies can learn by following Covelli’s example,” Parker said.

I am also grateful for how the NAACP has worked with us, partnered with us and believed in us so that we have been able to create one of the most diverse and inclusive workforces that can be found in any restaurant in America.

Read the official press release here.

Businesses have an important role to play in society

Whitney M. Young Award reminded me of that responsibility

In February, I received the Whitney M. Young Award from the Laurel Highlands Council, Scoutreach Division of the Boy Scouts of America. I am thrilled by the honor, but it has also prompted me to think about the social role and responsibility of businesses.


Please allow me to explain.

First, I believe I may need to provide some background about the late Whitney Young. Young, the former executive director of the national Urban League, was a truly remarkable individual and a man from whom we can still learn today.

He was the son of an educator, a graduate of MIT and a man who was committed to working for change and greater understanding. He advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Some of his biographers say he was successful because he helped bridge racial divides and worked with business leaders for full integration of organizations and businesses.

His New York Times obituary quoted him: “`I’m not anxious to be the loudest voice, or the most popular. But I would like to think that, at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, and an effective hope of the hopeless.’”

I think we can all learn from that and we’ve tried to adopt that philosophy at Covelli Enterprises where we think of our work as more than just a food service operation.

We see our organization as part of the communities we serve, providing not only great quality food, but decent jobs with advancement opportunities.

And we take diversity seriously and go to great lengths to ensure that the restaurants that are part of our growing network are staffed with people of varying ethnicities and ages. For instance, we are launching a training program at McGuffey Center intended to help us identify interested associates.

And then, there’s a whole other part to how we view our corporate responsibility. We take philanthropy very seriously and each year give about $27 million in food or cash to various non-profit organizations in communities where we operate.

But we do more than just write checks. We partner with organizations, lending the expertise that we have.

I recently received a letter from Retired 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native, applauding our company for the work that we are doing. I am so proud of the letter that I want to share part of it with you.

“I have been involved in civil rights activities for well over fifty years.  In my early years, the business community was generally a stumbling block to progress.  A change has now taken place.  An enlightened view toward social and economic change has been demonstrated by business persons resulting in more businesses stepping forward.  Sam Covelli and Covelli Enterprises are in the vanguard of this change,” Jones wrote.

This letter, the award from the Boy Scouts, the support that we receive from customers every day and most of all, the satisfaction that I have knowing that we are doing our part to make the world a better and more just place are amazingly rewarding for me and for our family of 25,000 associates at Covelli Enterprises.