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Covelli Enterprises Grows in Markets, Café Locations, and Customer Conveniences Offered


2017 was a year of unmatched growth for us with expansion into new markets, the opening of locations, and the venture into delivery among other new services designed to improve the customer experience at our Panera bakery-cafés. For all we’ve accomplished this year, we were presented the highest honor a franchisee can receive when we were named Panera’s Franchisee of the Year.

This award is given to Panera franchisees for operational excellence, café openings, market acquisitions and financial metrics, all areas in which we saw continued success in 2017. The acquisition of 22 bakery-cafés in South Carolina and Georgia and 15 in North Carolina allowed us to expand our footprint into 3 new states and in large cities like Savannah, GA; Columbia and Charleston, SC; and Greensboro, NC. We quickly opened 3 new bakery-cafés near Myrtle Beach, and all broke company opening week sales records. We have plans to fill out these markets with new locations planned for 2018 in each region.

In addition to openings in recently acquired markets, our company built units in existing markets with a focus on our home state of Ohio. New Panera locations opened in 2017 in Columbus, Canton, and Cincinnati, where we plan rapid expansion for 2018. This year Cincinnati, acquired in 2016, saw its first new Panera in the tri-state area since 2014. The Mason café opened in November and was the start of our aggressive growth plan for the market, which currently has 22 Panera locations.

The development of the Cincinnati market will follow the same trajectory as two other major Ohio markets acquired within the last 7 years. Between 2010 and 2014, we acquired 30 bakery-cafes in the Columbus/Central Ohio and Dayton area. Since then, we have more than doubled the number of bakery-cafes in the region with more than 60 restaurants open. Covelli now owns 136 bakery-cafés in Ohio, the largest amount owned in one state by any franchisee in the Panera system. This is something of which we are extremely proud.

“We’re an Ohio company, so growing our brand in our home state is a major priority for us,” said Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises. “There is so much potential here, and we look forward to not only expanding in our number of locations but also in our ability to better serve our guests through services like delivery, drive-thru and ordering kiosks.”

A focus on customer improvements will continue to be part of Covelli Enterprises’ growth plan as we spent much of 2017 implementing services like drive-thrus, Rapid Pick-Up, and digital ordering kiosks, along with the mass-launch of small order delivery in every market. These offerings are designed to enhance the guest experience, and plans for expansion include retro-fitting existing cafés with these conveniences over the next several years. Delivery has resulted in tremendous sales growth for our Panera cafés reaching an entirely new audience for the concept. It has also allowed us to add more staff to our list of nearly 35,000 employees.

Covelli Enterprises, also operating 9 Dairy Queen locations and 6 O’Charley’s restaurants along with our 300 Panera bakery-cafés, continues to believe philanthropy is the backbone of our business. Our company donated more than $32 million to charity in 2017.

We look forward to 2018 as we strive to deliver on our promise to provide the best food served by the friendliest employees in the cleanest restaurants possible, all while giving back to the local community in any way we can.

All the little faces…

LaurenHill1-321x428If you ask people what makes our mac and cheese special, they may say it’s the taste of the creamy Vermont white cheddar or the delicate texture of the pasta shells or maybe the fact that is made with all clean ingredients. No matter what they say, the bottom line is: our mac and cheese is special because it’s comfort food. It’s food that is easy to eat. It’s food that makes you feel warm and happy inside. It’s food that can turn around a bad day. It’s food that is loved by small children and adults alike.

And this comfort food of ours is what connected us to one very incredible young lady named Lauren Hill, a high school basketball player who caught the attention of national media several years ago when she was diagnosed with DIPG, a rare form of pediatric brain cancer. Lauren wanted nothing more than to play her favorite sport for the college she was accepted to. Despite the progression of her tumor and a terminal prognosis, Lauren stepped out on the court in late 2014 to play for Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati in one of the most memorable college sporting events of all time. And while Lauren unfortunately passed away in the spring of 2015, her memory lives on through the work of The Cure Starts Now, an organization that funds research to find the ‘homerun cure’ that Lauren dreamed of. It’s an organization we now proudly support, all because Lauren loved our Panera mac and cheese so much.LaurenHill2-305x429

Lauren’s very public battle brought a level of awareness that didn’t exist previously for DIPG, or Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a type of brain cancer typically found in young children and characterized as an aggressive tumor in the “control center” of the brain. As the tumor grows it affects motor skills and mobility, nerves, speech, and body function, including swallowing. Toward the end as her condition worsened, our mac and cheese became one of the only things Lauren was still able to eat and one of the only things she really enjoyed eating.

This story, however, is not about mac and cheese. And it’s not even about Lauren. To put it in the words of Lauren’s mother, Lisa Hill, it’s about all the little faces behind Lauren’s.


Lisa, who has now dedicated her life to working for The Cure Starts Now, said, “We all think we know pediatric cancer. You walk past the posters and see the little bald heads. You acknowledge it briefly and think to yourself, ‘thank God my kids are healthy,’ and you move on.”

Lisa explained that there’s a lot more complexity to the issue of DIPG and pediatric brain cancer, especially how severely underfunded the research is. Only 4% of ALL cancer research funding goes to pediatric cancers. That 4% spread across ALL forms of pediatric cancer, in Lisa’s opinion, doesn’t go far enough.

DIPG only has a 10% long term survival rate. Even more startling, “long term survivor” is considered any child living just two years beyond diagnosis. And while Lauren lived to see her 19th birthday, most of the children with DIPG are between the ages of 5 and 10. This tumor’s main treatment still continues to be radiation and steroids which temporarily shrinks the tumor, but eventually it starts to regrow. To date, there isn’t even a drug that has helped to extend life expectancy for these children.

“As a parent, all you want to do is see your kids grow up. I was very blessed to have had [Lauren] for 19 years. I got to see the woman that she would have been,” Lisa said. “But so many parents, whose children have DIPG, won’t have that same opportunity.”

To put it in Lisa’s terms, as far as research funding goes we currently care about our adults 96% more than we care about our kids.

Lauren, who her mom describes as a quiet leader, was forced into the spotlight when her inspirational story went viral. Lauren embraced her role as the voice for DIPG… even when she was struggling to walk, talk and eat. She continued fighting until the end for all the other kids. She became the most recognizable face of pediatric cancer and remains that today.

And Lauren’s influence has made a big difference.

Because of Lauren’s efforts, The Cure Starts Now has grown in chapters as well as research funded. In 2015, the organization had raised a total of $6.7 million in research funding over its 8 years of existence. $2 million of that was in Lauren’s honor. Lisa said, “One day the realization hit me that Lauren had raised one third of all donations over the lifetime of the charity in just a 14-month period. It was so hard for me to believe she had that much of an impact.”

In 2017, the organization reached $10.1 million in research funded, $2.3 million of that raised in Lauren’s name alone.

Lisa said The Cure Starts Now is unique because it has very little operating costs – dedicating 100% of all donations directly to research. She said, “We are very serious about finding a cure.”

In late 2017, Panera Bread presented a check for just over $6,500 to Lisa Hill and The Cure Starts Now during halftime at the annual Lauren Hill Tipoff Classic held at Xavier University. These funds were raised through collection canisters at the registers of our 22 bakery-cafés in the Greater Cincinnati area.


Of the donation from Panera Bread, Lisa said, “I appreciate Panera and their partnership to help us with research. Any partnership that we can make and sustain with an organization to fund research moving forward is huge. It’s not just about having an event. It’s about getting companies and corporations vested in finding a cure for cancer. That’s a huge dynamic for us to fund as much research as possible. The faster we can do the research, the faster we get a better outcome for the kids and a cure.”

Lisa said the best way to honor Lauren’s memory is to continue to give. Lauren didn’t want the donations to end with her life. She didn’t want her famous basketball game to be the end of people caring or donating to DIPG research.

In a very emotional final interview before she died, Lauren said, “[This] is not a happy story. But you can turn it into a happy story.” She continued, “I go to bed every night thinking to myself, ‘What am I here for, what am I here for, what am I here for’… and keep reminding myself that I’m here not for me. I’m here for everybody else.”

Lauren needed to know the funding for finding a cure would continue on. There’s still not a cure – there are other children dying. Lauren was fighting for those other kids. All those other little faces.

She also wanted to be clear that cancer didn’t win. And it never will.

Lisa, who has two other children, Nathan, 20 and Erin, 17, said, “You don’t love anyone like you love your kids. There are certain levels of love. And your love for your child is the greatest love.”

Lauren would have been 22 this year and getting ready to graduate from Mount St. Joseph.

Lauren bravely embraced her role as the voice for all children with DIPG. She demonstrated an inner strength that is pervasive throughout Lauren’s entire family, but incredibly evident in her mother Lisa, and the way she continues to carry out Lauren’s mission day in and day out.

“My job can be emotionally challenging at times, but also very rewarding in supporting other families,” Lisa said.  “I often will watch a Lauren video to remind me, to boost me up and give me strength.  I’m not sure which one of us had more or who fed who when it came to strength. Less often I find the videos as sad. When I watch them, I get to see her face, hear her words, see her smile and she gives me a reminder that the war on DIPG is not over and battles still need to be fought to find a cure for these kids. [Lauren] gives me the strength to continue fighting and raising research funding and awareness in her honor and the honor of all the other kids fallen to DIPG. To now be her voice that has been forever silenced.”

To support The Cure Starts Now and Lauren’s fight to find a cure, visit and look for more ways to support the cause at your Cincinnati Panera Bread cafés in 2018, including a late-summer fundraiser featuring (what else, but) Lauren’s favorite – our deliciously comforting mac and cheese.


Let our Christmas tradition ring!

When I think about what makes the holidays special, the word “tradition” comes to my mind. We had many family traditions growing up, but one thing we’ve always made a priority each year is giving back. It’s something that has always been a part of our family, and something we make sure to continue each year.

One of my very favorite traditions is ringing the bell at Christmas time to collect money for the Salvation Army with my son, Albert. We started this several years back, and we look forward to it all year long. It’s incredible (and humbling!) to stand out in the freezing cold in the middle of December and bear witness to the true generosity of the people in our communities as we request donations for those in need.

My son Albert is now grown, just married this past October, and living in Columbus. And while we can’t always make it work to be together to ring the bell, it’s a tradition that lives on through him. This year he and his wife Sarah stood outside our new Parkcenter Panera Bread café in Dublin, Ohio on another chilly December day and rang their bells. That’s the beautiful part about traditions… that they are passed down and are carried on.

Our family tradition of giving back was instilled in me by my late father, also named Albert, and it’s something we will continue forever.

As I take stock this Christmas at the close of another year, I just want to say how grateful I am to our guests and friends for their support and patronage. It is because of you that we are able to keep up our family tradition of giving back to the communities we serve. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Covelli Donates $1 Million to Youngstown State University


A Gift to ‘Maintain’ Hope for the Future

 On a beautiful Saturday in fall, Youngstown State University football fans turned their gaze to the 20-yard line at the south end of Beede Field in Stambaugh Stadium for a special presentation. Sam and Caryn Covelli, lifelong Mahoning Valley residents and Penguins fans, presented a gift to YSU Athletics in the amount of $1 million, a gift meant to enhance the neighborhood surrounding campus and continue the university’s tradition of excellence on and off the field, but one that, for the Youngstown community, means so much more.

YSU Penguins have long been recognized for their success on the field and in the arena. They have notable wins historically in almost every sport including four national football titles and a trip to last year’s NCAA FCS Championship and two recent women’s triple crown wins in 2013-14 and 2014-15 for cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field to name just a few. YSU’s enrollment and academics are in an upward swing as well with larger freshmen classes boasting increasingly higher standardized test scores and high school grade point averages starting each new school year for the past several years according to a 2016 news release on the university’s website.

In short, there is a lot to be proud of about Youngstown State. And yet, if you ask someone from the Valley to describe exactly what makes YSU so special, it’s likely to be hard for them to put into words. The university means so much more than athletic and academic accolades. It means hope for the future.

“YSU is woven so deeply into the fabric of our community. From the opportunities it creates for its students and graduates, to the community-binding sporting events it provides for spectators and fans, to the thousands of students who we have employed as part of our company, this institution is invaluable to our Valley,” said Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises. “For this reason, we are grateful to be in a position to help support the student-athletes, the university, and the campus-area as a whole.”

The $1 million gift will be used to enhance and maintain the athletics facilities across from Stambaugh Stadium on the west side of campus currently made up of Farmers National Bank Field and YSU Softball Field and will serve to drastically improve the Fifth Avenue gateway to the university. For many years, this end of campus was marked by empty, dilapidated houses and vacant lots, but is now and will be the beautified home of the soccer and track-and-field facilities, as well as the softball field and a proposed tennis center.

In other words, the gift will be used to bolster the powerful transformation the university has already brought about in the areas surrounding campus and continue to provide invaluable experiences for student-athletes and their Penguin fanatics alike for years to come.

“Under the leadership of President Tressel and Executive Director of Athletics Ron Strollo, I have no doubt that YSU’s best days are ahead of it both academically and athletically,” said Covelli, who received an honorary degree at YSU’s Fall Commencement in December 2016.

“Here in the Valley, we’re all Penguins,” he added.

In recognition of the gift, the sports fields affected will be named Covelli Sports Complex. The gift will help maintain the facilities, and perhaps more importantly, a sense of hope for the future of the area.

For more information on this gift, visit our news room.

Mason Café Opening Signals More Growth in Our Home State

Our Plans to Expand in Cincinnati

It’s been nearly four years since the Cincinnati market has seen a new Panera Bread location. Now, we’re starting a new wave of growth in the Queen City beginning with the recent Grand Opening of our drive-thru café in Mason with many more to come. In other words, the focus on expanding the Panera Bread concept in Cincy, one of our home state’s largest cities, has just begun!

The Mason Panera Bread opened Tuesday, November 7 to an excited crowd! The new Panera, located at 5270 Kings Mills Rd. in front of Kroger, opened with a free coffee and travel mug giveaway, free car coaster giveaway for drive-thru customers, and an offering of a $5 gift card for every You-Pick-Two purchased.

The 5,000-square-foot, next-generation, freestanding bakery-cafe is equipped with a convenient drive-thru and plenty of patio space for guests to enjoy a meal outdoors when the weather permits. In addition, it is the first Panera in Cincinnati to offer kiosk ordering stations – an option that reduces wait time for all guests. Panera kiosks are just one of a series of integrated technologies our stores have introduced in recent years to enhance our guest experience. It’s all part of our growth plan!

Also part of the plan: partnership building and more café locations. Since we acquired the 21 bakery-cafés in Cincinnati in April of 2016, we’ve taken steps to grow the brand’s overall presence in the market with the recent launch of small order delivery, the addition of a drive-thru to the Finneytown location earlier this year, and the development of large-scale partnerships with the Cincinnati Reds and University of Cincinnati.

cinci-openings-1440x1080In addition to ongoing business objectives, Covelli Enterprises plans to maintain its strategic focus on community involvement and philanthropy within the Cincinnati area. Panera has supported such local organizations as Freestore Foodbank, Shared Harvest Foodbank, the Mason Food Pantry and the American Cancer Society of Southwest Ohio for many years. The Covelli acquisition in 2016 opened the doors for new strategic partnerships with local non-profit organizations like the Disabled American Veterans, Cincinnati Toys for Tots, Mercy Health Foundation, St. Elizabeth Foundation, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, among others.

Our excitement about growing this brand in our home state Ohio is hard to contain. We’ve got big plans for Panera in Ohio, and our growth in Cincinnati is a key part of those plans. We can’t wait!

Covelli Enterprises Proud to Be Associated With Pink Ribbon Girls

Dayton Organization Provides Practical Help to Women Battling Cancer

Angie Squires refers to Pink Ribbon Girls with a simple phrase: “A Blessing.”
Pink Ribbon Girls entered Angie’s life at a terribly challenging time.  It was May 2014 and the 48 year-old mother of two had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was receiving life-saving but exhausting treatments for the disease when a friend connected her to Pink Ribbon Girls of Dayton.
angie-squires-300x300The Pink Ribbon Girls began bringing her, her husband, and two sons meals every day and cleaning their home.
But that’s not all, the organization also offered her support from peers who had faced similar challenges. “Pink Ribbon Girls provided the peer support to allow me to ‘compare notes’ with other survivors and to encourage and be encouraged by others. Volunteer opportunities with PRG were and are a means to ‘pay it forward’ and share my experiences and help others who are on this same journey,” Angie said.
“I have met some amazing and courageous women and developed some lifelong friendships along the way,” she said.
Pink Ribbon Girls formed in 2012 by breast cancer survivors to help Angie and others who are currently in the fight against breast and women’s reproductive cancers. Sarah Gillenwater, director of marketing for Pink Ribbon Girls, said the organization wants to do more than just “talk about cancer.” “We want to take on cancer. We are here to make the burden lighter. We strive to balance the fear and uncertainty that breast and women’s reproductive cancers bring to individuals and families,” she said.
Pink Ribbon Girls offers women and their families healthy meals, housecleaning, rides to treatment and peer support. “We want to ensure that no one travels this road alone™,” Sarah said.
Pink Ribbon Girls, a non-profit, which is funded by donations from Covelli Enterprises and other businesses and individuals, provided 61,000 meals to clients and their families in 2016 and is on track to serve 75,000 in 2017. The organization works with about 175 clients each week.
The meals are prepared by executive chefs who focus on the nutrition that a cancer patient requires. The meals are flash-frozen and delivered to clients’ homes. The housecleaning is performed by bonded and insured companies. Similarly, the rides that Pink Ribbon Girls provides are offered through its trained transportation specialist.
Sam Covelli of Covelli Enterprises said it is an honor to be able to support the highly professional work of Pink Ribbon Girls. “This is an organization that was formed by women who battled breast cancer. So they truly understand the needs of others battling the disease. We applaud their work,” Sam said.angie-squires-2-300x416
Pink Ribbon Girls began its association with Covelli Enterprises when Heather Salazar, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, met Jessica Cavaliere, regional marketing director for Covelli Enterprises.
Heather remembered the meeting, “I immediately loved her passion and willingness to think outside the box.  She was on a mission to make sure our Dayton campaign was super successful.  We had brainstorming sessions and created ways to increase awareness of the campaign.  We loved partnering with Jessica and team.  The rest is history.”
Jessica offered similar praise for Heather and the entire Pink Ribbon Girls team, calling the work one of the highlights of her career with Panera Bread. “Their dedication to the cause and the support from the people they serve every day in our local communities has shone through in every campaign! Looking forward to seeing what the future holds for our partnerships,” she said.
Covelli Enterprise’s 50+ Dayton- and Columbus-area Panera Bread cafés will raise money for Pink Ribbon Girls through its annual Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign. In Dayton, 100 percent of the proceeds on Tuesday, Oct. 24 and a portion of the proceeds from the rest of October will benefit the cause.
Round-up donations will also be collected at cash registers at the cafes throughout the month.
Covelli Enterprises has donated more than $3 million since 2010 to Pink Ribbon Girls and similar breast cancer organizations.
Bagel orders can be placed at

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Women Battling Breast Cancer With Joanie Abdu

When Carrie Rayl walked in the 2016 Panerathon, she was there to show support for her mother, who had just finished treatment for breast cancer.

When Carrie walked in the 2017 Panerathon, it was because she herself is battling breast cancer.

“I never thought that six months after my mother had breast cancer, that I’d be diagnosed. This has just be unreal,” said Rayl, a 45 year-old mother of two sons.

Rayl, her mother, Linda Simplican, her husband, Frank, and 50 of their friends and co-workers wore specially printed T Shirts with the name, “Carrie’s Crew” at the 2017 Panerathon. And they came in 7th place in the competition.

Carrie said the event had new meaning for her this year. “I am so grateful to the Joanie Abdu Center for everything they’ve done for me,” she said.  Proceeds from the Panerathon benefit the center.

Carrie, who works as an occupational therapy assistant at St Elizabeth Hospital, is still undergoing treatment for the breast cancer and is about halfway through radiation therapy.

 “There’s never a good time to get cancer,” she said.

But for Carrie, this has been an extremely eventful year.

Two days after being discharged from the hospital for complication from chemotherapy, her eldest son, Austin, was graduating from college and she attended the ceremony. “I was just determined to be there,” she said.

And two weeks later, she watched her youngest son, Noah, graduate from high school.

“I was weak and had to let people help me with his party but I was so thankful I was able to be there,” she said.

Like her mother, she had a lumpectomy to remove a cancerous mass, but Carrie’s breast cancer was more severe. Cancer was found in a lynph node as well, meaning that she had Stage Two breast cancer and had to undergo a whole course of chemotherapy.

Her mother’s lymph nodes showed no signs of cancer.

Carrie said the chemotherapy was particularly rough for her but that she is doing well now.

“I am just so grateful that we caught it early and was able to get the treatment and support that I did,” she said.

carre-ray-2She believes that one of the reasons why her cancer was detected so early is because she decided to get her yearly mammogram at the Joanie Abdu Breast Center instead of the usual facility where she had been getting them.  She was so impressed with the care that Joanie Abdu provided for her mother.

She said the 3-D imaging that Joanie Abdu uses allows for better and earlier detection.

“The 3-D digital mammography can detect cancer 15 months earlier than a normal mammogram,” she said. “Now I tell everyone to make sure they ask if their facility uses 3-D digital imagining.”

Carrie said participating in the Panerathon represents one small way she can give back to the Joanie Abdu Breast Center.

“The Panerathon is important to me because it’s right here in our local community, gives 100 percent of the proceeds to Joanie Abdu Breast Center which provided excellent care for my mom and now did the same for me!” she said. “We are blessed to have a facility that just focused on breast care & cancer treatments.”

Carrie said the support that she has received for Carrie’s Crew means a  great deal to her.

“I feel overwhelmed by the support of Carrie’s Crew, which is my family, friends and co-workers and some people I don’t personally know, who have bought my shirts and have been praying for me. It means so much to me, my husband and kids.”

She said the support strengthens her. “It makes me fight even harder!”

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.