Panera Bread in Central Ohio Recognized as Community Employer of the Year

Tabbi Erb is serious about her job at the Maxtown Panera in Westerville, Ohio. She stays busy excelling at her cleaning duties and making lattes for customers. She loves her job at Panera for more than the typical reasons like working for one of the nation’s most popular fast-casual food brands and coming home without smelling like french fries. 

Tabbi came to Panera through a partnership with Alpha Group, a Central Ohio nonprofit organization that provides employment, rehabilitation, and support services to individuals with high functioning disabilities – or rather unique ABILITIES. To Tabbi, her job at Panera means being a valued member of a team and being an independent and contributing member of the community as a whole.

On Wednesday, October 16, Covelli Enterprises/Panera Bread was recognized as Alpha Group Community Pairings Employer of the Year.  This award is presented to employers who go above and beyond in helping their clients – referred to as ‘consumers’ – obtain meaningful, competitive, and supportive employment.  According to Matt Green, a vocational specialist with Alpha Group, the decision to nominate Panera for this award was unanimous among its committee members. 

“[Panera] has been so great in working with and supporting our consumers as well as partaking in our job fairs. It’s a great partnership, and Clare and Mindy are such wonderful, caring people,” said Green. 

Panera’s Central Ohio Recruiters Clare Huddy and Mindy Riley, to whom Green is referring, accepted the award on behalf of the company. They initiated and have fostered the relationship with Alpha Group by attending job fairs and working closely with job coaches for each consumer that has been hired to be able to ensure a good fit for both the employee and the cafe they serve. 

And it isn’t always a perfect fit from the start. 

Green explained that often they will place a consumer in one position within the cafe and then they have to be moved to another area until they find what works for that person’s skill set. 

“We started one individual on the sandwich line and it ended up being too fast-paced. We moved him to the dining room, and now he’s a rock star. It meant so much that the manager didn’t give up,” said Green. 

That, he said, beyond the active attendance at job fairs, is the main reason for Panera receiving the award. 

“Panera has been absolutely phenomenal. They go above and beyond to give everyone their fair chance. They work to make it successful, and continue to find solutions until it clicks.” 

That’s exactly what happened with Tabbi. The General Manager at our Maxtown Panera, Jaclyn Craddock, admits there was an adjustment period after she was hired where she had to be accompanied by an Alpha Group job coach for six weeks. After time, though, Tabbi began to flourish independently in her job. She is now always finding ways to be productive in the cafe as well as ways to make people around her smile. 

“She is always in a great mood,” Craddock said. “She creates a more positive work environment for her coworkers and the customers.”

According to Alpha Group job coaches, Panera managers have been accommodating with varying skill levels and finding things consumers are able to do, providing different positions to try out within the company, flexible schedules, and opportunities to move up.

That growth potential was something that was particularly important to another individual who works at our Sunbury, Ohio Panera. He had previously held a position collecting carts for a local grocery store chain. He knew he could handle more and longed for work that had potential for advancement and a place where he felt like the work he was doing mattered. When he found his position at Panera, he found a place that cared about his development and considered him a trusted and valued member of the team. The cafe invested in his success.

Green said, “Panera employees and managers don’t treat our consumers differently. They don’t talk down to them. They treat them like everybody else. They just get it.” 

The benefit to the partnership isn’t just one-sided. According to Clare Huddy, working with Alpha Group has helped fill important and unique needs within the Panera cafes and also helps the company demonstrate its core values.

Huddy said, “We have been able to bring more diversity to our workplace through hiring some amazing individuals with unique gifts and abilities. At Covelli Enterprises, we are always looking for ways to make our customers smile and let each and every person know they are valued and respected. Alpha Group has helped us achieve this by introducing us to individuals that boost employee and customer morale, and represent an important part of our customer population.” 

Alpha Group currently serves about 130 consumers in Delaware, Franklin, and the surrounding counties helping them find real-life employment, develop interview skills, build relationships, and become independent participants in the workforce. Covelli Enterprises is the proud recipient of Alpha Group’s Community Pairings Employer of the Year Award, and is grateful to employees like Tabbi for their hard work and contribution to our company. 

To inquire about job opportunities with Panera Bread, an equal opportunity employer, visit


Covelli Enterprises is not new to the restaurant game. The Ohio-based company has been in the business for more than fifty years, once one of the largest franchisees of McDonalds and now the single largest franchisee of Panera Bread, LLC with more than 315 locations nationwide. Throughout its experience, the company has witnessed countless trends and mounting consumer preferences. First customers wanted a ‘third space’ or ‘home away from home’. They also wanted convenience. Next they wanted unmatched food quality. Then they wanted complete menu transparency. Now it seems they want all of this and more – including all day access, anywhere they are. For any other brand, that might feel like an impossible mountain to climb. Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises, explains why Panera was built exactly for the purpose of addressing these ever-growing demands, and why his commitment to the brand only gets stronger as he watches it evolve to lead the industry where it is headed.

More than 20 years ago, Covelli Enterprises began franchising Panera restaurants to align with the consumer trend toward healthier food options. The bakery-cafe brand sought to challenge the expectation that quick service meant low quality and founded itself on the commitment to bake fresh bread every day with simple ingredients. The tradition of serving ‘food as it should be’ continues to be the foundation of the brand and has allowed it to remain ahead of the curve in addressing what customers want – and in Covelli’s opinion, this ability is exclusive to Panera.

“What makes Panera unique is that we didn’t need to change anything to give our customers what they wanted. The brand was built to already be that for them,” Covelli said.  “That’s the reason we took a chance on Panera back in the 90s before anyone knew what it was. We saw what was happening with customer preferences and found a brand we knew would not only be able to respond, but to help shape where the restaurant industry was going,” he said.

Panera has begun testing a 10-item dinner menu in Lexington, KY and Providence, RI available from 4:30-10 p.m. that includes three new product categories: artisanal flatbreads, hearty dinner bowls, and seasonal sides. If testing goes well, the brand seeks to bring these options to the entire chain in the near future. In a first step, all Panera locations launched two new grain bowls this month – including Baja and Mediterranean – served warm and with the option to add chicken or keep it plant-based. The company’s goal is offer more grains, plants, and proteins, with a focus on delivering craveable food that makes you feel not just full, but fulfilled.

Daniel A. Wegiel, EVP and Chief Growth and Strategy Officer at Panera said in a company release, “Interest in bowls that feature an abundance of nutrient-dense, fresh, layered ingredients, lean protein, veggies, grains and flavorful sauces is on the rise. We believe this product is the best example of what we stand for when we say ‘good and good for you.’ Panera’s warm grain bowls deliver on consumer demand for options that are both hearty and nutritious, that they can feel good about, without compromise.”

The warm grain bowls are designed to fit into a flexitarian diet and contain at least 29 grams of protein. They are the brand’s answer to the customer’s desire for something heartier than a salad, but healthier than a traditional sandwich, and is intended to appeal to a dinner crowd.

Panera’s recent menu additions are not its first attempt to branch out of the lunch daypart. In April it launched another set of menu items designed to attract the highly loyal and convenience-focused breakfast guest. The launch of new breakfast wraps and cold brew coffee along with a revamp of its hot coffee allowed Panera to add to its appeal for the busy morning visitor.

According to a recent QSR magazine article by Danny Klein, the benefit Panera has is that is has always been a brand with products that people believe in. The article sites data from a mobile location analytics platform saying, “when you consider’s data, it shows there’s customer demand and trust in the offering at Panera. The chain didn’t have to reinvent the wheel with breakfast. Guests know it’s there. It was a matter of changing how they access it and incorporating those products into daily routines” (Klein, 2019). In other words, these new products, rather than appearing like a diversion, made complete sense to the customer.

Panera has always been a food innovator. In 2004, Panera was the first major chain to launch chicken raised without antibiotics, and by 2005, it had removed all artificial trans fats from its menu. In 2010, it became the first national restaurant to voluntarily display calorie information on the menu boards, and in 2014 it committed to remove all flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors from artificial sources from its food. In 2015, Panera shared a comprehensive list of ingredients it planned to remove or never use with the unveiling of its famous ‘No No’ List. It also promised to use all cage-free eggs by 2020. In the midst of its menu modifications, the brand was also working to implement its Panera 2.0 initiative, incorporating technology to improve the customer experience through conveniences like online ordering. By early 2016, Panera had delivered on its promise of a 100% clean menu while simultaneously launching its small order delivery service. By the end of 2016, digital sales accounted for more than 20 percent of its business.

Recent menu changes, however, have not been made necessarily to appeal to new customers, but to appeal to the same customer at different times of day – or rather all day. The QSR article stated that brands are using customer frequency to fill the void of slower in-store traffic, attracting ‘stickier’, more loyal customers who are willing to dine with the brand more often and spend more while doing so (Klein 2019). The new products are also designed to fit in with the new ways people are accessing them – more portable wraps, for example. With the success of its Rapid Pick-up and Delivery programs, Panera has made its products as accessible as they are craveable. Panera now receives about 1.4 million online orders a week. That means while its stores may see less traffic during traditional dayparts, its digital sales continue to grow and allow customers access to the brand anytime, anywhere. The new, diverse products – designed to be transportable and for anytime-of-day appeal – fit perfectly into this tech-driven shift.

Covelli Enterprises has made it a priority to implement as much of the Panera 2.0 technology into its locations as possible. The company has invested in building new locations and remodeling existing ones to include drive-thrus, Delivery, Rapid Pick-up, and digital ordering kiosks. These changes required a significant monetary investment by the company – all part of Covelli’s long-established commitment to the Panera 2.0 vision, many years in the making.

“We’ve spent decades building the systems and the framework that allow us to react quickly and even be ahead of trends. Instead of working backward, we’ve always been thinking forward,” Covelli said.

For Covelli, his belief in the Panera brand has only strengthened as he has watched many other concepts jump through hoops to try and keep up. In his mind, Panera is the only brand that has taken steps from its inception to be ahead of customer demands. Panera’s forte is in its food, but also the tech behind it including a MyPanera database of more than 34 million people and now more than $2 billion in digital sales under its belt.

“Some concepts have to make sweeping changes. They have to stop in their tracks and reinvent who and what they are. We’ve never had to do that with Panera because even as everything changes, there are some things that remain the same. The customer will always want to be treated well and offered delicious food they can feel good about in a clean, friendly environment. The technology, the responsibly-sourced ingredients, the varied menu… that’s all just part of that. We’re still just delivering on those most basic promises,” he said.

Late this summer, Panera announced its partnership with third-party delivery providers DoorDash, GrubHub, and UberEats to be able to further expand its delivery business. The exciting changes from Panera will continue as it tests breakfast delivery, adds new conveniences like an easy reorder function to its app and more fast-pay options, and launches menu items designed to be enjoyed anytime – morning, noon, and night from wherever the customer pleases.

Covelli said, “We’ve had to get creative with how we are delighting our customers, but that’s what makes our industry – and our brand – fun. It’s the versatility of Panera in the face of new challenges that makes it so powerful.”


Klein, D. (July 2019). Is Panera Just Beginning to Reach its Potential? Breakfast and dinner strategies could turn the fast casual into an all-day giant. QSR Magazine. Retrieved from

Panera employee designs t-shirt for annual Autism Cookie Campaign

This is Bashir.

He’s one of the friendly faces you see at our Voice of America Panera Bread in West Chester, Ohio in our Cincinnati market. He started with our company as an Associate a year ago and has quickly grown to become the Assistant Manager at that location. According to Belinda, the cafe General Manager, it isn’t just his natural ability to serve the guest that makes him special. There’s so much more that makes Bashir who he is.

“He is very hardworking and humble,” Belinda said. “He really enjoys working for Panera Bread and in this community that he loves dearly.”

Bashir is also a very talented graphic artist, submitting the winning design for our recent company-wide t-shirt design contest. This April, the t-shirt he created will be worn by thousands of Panera employees across eight states during our annual Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign. The campaign will run from April 8-14 in all Covelli-owned Panera cafes to support various autism organizations, and Bashir couldn’t be prouder to have been selected as the winner.

“When I heard ’you won’ I felt like a dream came true,” he said. “This contest gave me the chance to do something for children with autism. From a young age I have always wanted to do something to help children in need of assistance. This is my way to do that.”

Perhaps it’s Bashir’s background that motivates him to give back. He comes to us from the country of Jordan. There he studied graphic design and after graduation worked for 8 years as a designer and media manager for a media company before starting his own graphic design business. After 3 years of managing his own business, he wanted to realize his dream of coming to the United States because of his love for this country and the people.

Bashir knew this leap of faith would mean having to start over, but he said “You can accomplish anything you want to if you work hard. You can start over and over if necessary to make your dream come true.”

When he got to the United States, he searched for a company that had the potential for career advancement and the chance to work with and help people.

“Panera provides the chance for me to serve the people. I have the chance to make an impact on someone’s day.”

The t-shirt design contest gave him the chance to use his graphic design skills to magnify that impact in support of a cause that affects so many.

The Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign is hosted annually to support causes including The Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, Potential Development, Autism Speaks of Central Ohio, Autism Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism Speaks Georgia Chapter, South Carolina Autism Society, Dan Marino Foundation, and autism centers at Cleveland Clinic, Dayton Children’s, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospitals. Funds are used by these partners to provide services, scholarships, research, treatment, advocacy, and resources for families.

The campaign is near and dear to Belinda’s heart as she has both a niece and a nephew with autism.

“I am happy that Covelli Enterprises devotes a whole week to raise funds and mostly awareness to our communities and our associates. It starts a conversation of what autism is and how we as a community can help.”

For Bashir, it’s the children, like Belinda’s niece and nephew, who are the most important thing.

“When I was designing the t-shirt, I already decided that the design was a gift for them,” he said.

Bashir donated the $100 prize he won through the contest back to the cause.

This is Bashir.

Belinda was very proud and excited that the winning design came from her cafe, but even more, she was touched by Bashir’s generosity.

“Anything he can do to support children with autism is more important than any prize won. How amazing is that?” she said. “In my eyes that makes him a rare individual.”

Bashir would like to thank Mr. Covelli for all of the charities his company supports. He also extends his gratitude to Belinda and all who work for Panera.

“I would like to take a moment to thank you for the chance to design something for this great campaign. I’m very proud to work for a company that supports great causes and organizations. Win or lose, my goal in my design was to show support for the children and do my best for them,” he said.

“Now let’s sell some cookies!”

Look for Bashir’s winning t-shirt design on the backs of every Covelli Panera employee this April 8-14 during the Pieces of Hope for Autism cookie sale. 100% of proceeds from every puzzle piece cookie sold will be donated to autism organizations in the communities we serve. To date, the campaign has raised more than $2 million for our partners.

Cookies can be pre-ordered now at

Click here to see highlights from last year’s campaign.

A special thanks to all Panera employees who submitted design ideas for this year’s contest!

Free meals for veterans and military is just part of Covelli Enterprises’ deep commitment to service members

Covelli Enterprises saluted those in uniform with free meals on Monday, November 12 in observance of Veterans Day in its participating Panera Bread locations across all eight states where it operates restaurants. The company has made it an annual tradition since 2011 to honor all veterans and military service members in this way and has given away nearly 150,000 free You Pick Two® meals since it began.

To participate, service members and veterans needed to only wear their uniform or show their valid military I.D. or discharge papers at participating Covelli-owned Panera Bread locations. The company honored free meals for veterans within its Dairy Queen and O’Charley’s restaurants, as well.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember those who have fought to give us the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “This is simply a small gesture of gratitude to those men and women who have sacrificed so much for those freedoms, and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank all veterans and service members for their dedication to our country.”

Covelli Enterprises’ support for veterans groups is not limited to food donations on Veterans Day. The organization supports organizations like American Red Cross, National Air Force Museum & Marathon, Veterans Affairs Hospitals, Disabled American Veterans, The Freedom Warrior Charitable Fund, Military Order of the Purple Heart, U.S. Marine Corp Foundation Toys for Tots, Wags 4 Warriors, Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism, Wounded Warrior Support Foundation, Wounded Warriors of South Florida, Mission United, United Military Care, and various local VFW Posts in the form of monetary and product donations throughout the year. In various markets, Covelli Enterprises representatives deliver free food to patients at the VA hospitals several times a year, and in others, our organization sponsors programs that offer free haircuts or free custom-made suits for returning military service members to ease their transition back to civilian life.

But as a society, we have become all-too-aware of the challenges of that transition, and it is clear that a free meal or a new haircut may not be enough to overcome all of them.

A staggering 22 veterans commit suicide each day, a number that Project Welcome Home Troops, an organization dedicated to teaching coping methods to returned soldiers, is working to decrease. Covelli Enterprises’ passion for supporting veterans led to a partnership with Project Welcome Home Troops that began several years ago and resulted in Covelli Enterprises raising nearly $60,000 to bring several workshops to Ohio, enough to reach 400 veterans with the group’s emerging, and potentially life-saving, coping tools.

Project Welcome Home Troops’ workshops involve using practical breath-based tools to decrease the stress, anxiety, and sleep problems commonly experienced by veterans and service members. The Power Breath Meditation Workshop, as it is called, is an interactive, mind-body resilience building program that uses a set of rhythmic breathing patterns to bring deep mental and physical relaxation and build a framework for empowerment, self-awareness, connectedness to community as well as a positive outlook. The best part is – it is actually making adifference in many veterans’ lives.

Army veteran of the Iraq war, Tom Voss, was deployed in 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Tom participated in hundreds of combat missions, convoys, security patrols, raids, area clearance operations, and humanitarian relief operations including providing security for the first democratic elections in Iraq since the invasion. Tom also conducted several scout sniper missions with the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), the Army’s most elite helicopter unit. Voss was honored to be selected for these responsibilities, but when he left the Army in 2006 and returned to civilian life, many of the experiences continued to negatively affect his well-being.

“[I] have been in the depths of my own hell and back dealing with PTS for more than 10 years,” Voss said. “It was the Power Breath Meditation that brought me back.”

Voss now serves as an advocate for Project Welcome Home Troops and their Power Breath Meditation Workshops.

The positive effects of this type of integrated health approach are far-reaching beyond the obvious relief it provides to veterans and their families. Utilizing these alternative treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury is less expensive than many medications prescribed, and over-prescribed, to veterans who continue to struggle with depression and insomnia. These coping methods are gaining in popularity on both sides of the aisle in Washington for that reason.

Representative Tim Ryan (D- Ohio) said of these coping techniques, “It’s time for legislators to learn about it because it hits all the buttons – it is helping the veterans, it’s low-cost, it’s low-tech, and there are no side effects… if that doesn’t cross partisan lines, I don’t know what’s going to.”

In addition to monetary support, Panera Bread also provided free food for the veterans and their families during the workshops. Leslye Moore, Director of Program Development for Project Welcome Home Troops, says food is an important way for workshop participants to socialize and connect.

“With veterans, so many of them self-isolate and some also don’t often take the time to take care of their bodies and eat healthy food,” Moore said. “The workshops help expose them to new and healthier ways of eating, but most importantly, the food helps them bond as a group. [It] helps to draw them out of their shells and into conversation.”

Moore recounted a story of a Vietnam veteran at one workshop where they were having a family-style meal prepared by volunteers for all of the participants. She said, “He had tears streaming down his face and said that this was the first time since he came back that he felt welcomed home. We never underestimate the power of food in our workshops.”

Covelli Enterprises uses Veterans Day as an opportunity to give all veterans and military service men and women that same feeling.

“We welcome all veterans and active duty service members to our restaurants to enjoy a meal, share their stories, and feel appreciated for all they have done for the rest of us,” said Sam Covelli. “Our commitment to honoring their service will continue in all the ways we support veterans organizations throughout the year in the communities we serve.”

Covelli Enterprises continues to seek ways to give back to military organizations and veterans in need. The company’s support for these groups has exceeded $1.4 million in food and monetary donations since 2011.


Every October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month Covelli Enterprises launches its Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign, selling special ribbon shaped cherry vanilla bagels to benefit local breast cancer organizations. Since 2010, Covelli Enterprises has raised more than $6 million to support breast cancer organizations and programs in the areas its serves.

Through this special once-a-year campaign, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all Pink Ribbon Bagels is donated to support various breast cancer causes including Cleveland Clinic, Linked by Pink, Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, Pink Ribbon Girls, The James Cancer Hospital, Miami Valley Hospital,, Palmetto Health Foundation, Roper St. Francis Foundation, St. Joseph’s/Candler Foundation and Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital and Augusta University Georgia Cancer Center.

Funds donated to these organizations, among others throughout the years, have been used to open new comprehensive breast cancer facilities, purchase mobile mammography units, support education and outreach programs, and provide transportation and assistance for those undergoing treatment. In other words, these funds have been used to support organizations and programs that are having positive affects on breast cancer outcomes in the communities where Covelli owns restaurants and beyond.

“There’s no better feeling than knowing our restaurants, our people, and our products are making a difference in the lives of others,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “The Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign is one way we are continuing the promise to give back to those who need it most within the communities we serve, and over the years we’ve been able to make real, life-saving impacts with the dollars raised from these bagels. We are very proud of that.”

The Pink Ribbon Bagel, shaped in the form of the iconic pink ribbon, features cherry chips, dried cherries and cranberries, vanilla, honey, and brown sugar, and is baked fresh each morning by Panera’s bakers at each bakery-cafe. One of Panera Bread’s first franchisees, a breast cancer survivor, developed the Pink Ribbon Bagel in 2001 as a way to help support breast cancer research.

Panera Bread is encouraging customers to take a photo with their Pink Ribbon Bagels to share their support for the cause on social media using #morethandough. The cafes are accepting pre-orders for bagels at

Funds will also be collected for breast cancer partner organizations at the Covelli Cares Community Breadbox canisters located at registers during the month of October.

Firefighters in Pink – The Unique Way Some are Finding to Participate in Our Annual Panerathon

With a high temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 93%, this year’s Panerathon was a hot and muggy one to say the least. Runners, walkers, and spectators dressed in their shorts and dri fit short-sleeved shirts to keep themselves cool while out in the sun for the 9th annual 10k/2 mile walk/run. A small group, however, could be seen donning full head-to-toe firefighting gear including jackets, pants, air packs and helmets. These items not only add extra insulation for these participants but also an additional 50-70 lbs. of weight to carry.

But extreme heat and weight are things you learn to deal with when you are a firefighter, and that’s exactly who these people are. The group called “Firefighters in Pink” includes a small number of firefighters and their family members who participate in Panerathon each year wearing their firefighting gear. The tradition was begun 6 years ago by Captain William Claypoole, affectionately called “Willie”, by the other group members.

“It started as something fun for us to do. It was a challenge for us, and it blossomed from there,” said Stephanie Deitch, formerly a volunteer firefighter from Wellsville, Ohio. Stephanie and Willie, long-time friends, are the ones who organize the team each year.

It started as just something fun to do, but has grown to mean so much more to this group.

“We’re a family within the firefighting community. When we are out there together, we’re not just representing our individual selves, but representing one another as a whole,” Stephanie said.

The group of firefighters hail from different fire departments in various communities all around the Valley. Some of them had never even met before showing up to participate in Panerathon together. Stephanie and Willie use word of mouth and Facebook to recruit firefighters and their family members to join them. It started the first year with just 2 or 3 firefighters and has slowly grown to about 8 people, adding a few more each year.

“Anybody is welcome to join our team, and we’re always looking to expand our group,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie’s mother-in-law participated this year for the first time. Her mother-in-law is not only a fire-mother-in-law, but she’s also a fire-wife and fire-mother. She participated wearing the heavy fire pants to show her support for her entire family of firefighters.

Stephanie said they even had a curious runner named Eric ask to participate wearing the full gear this year, so you don’t even need to be a firefighter or connected to a firefighting family to be able to join in.

In 2014, the Panerathon event staff got wind of this team and their mission and presented Willie with a pink fire helmet that has been worn by him every year at Panerathon since. Stephanie, building upon this tradition, had a retired helmet revamped in pink for this year’s event. She explained that firefighting gear has a lifespan and then it expires, so as more gear expires, she plans to turn them into pink displays of pride for the Firefighters in Pink to wear.

The Firefighters in Pink can be seen along the 2 mile course shaking hands, stopping to talk to people, high-fiving kids, allowing other participants to try on their packs and helmets, and encouraging other participants on the course to continue on. Stephanie said it’s a great way to give the community a small sense of what firefighters go through every day. In some ways, the struggles a firefighter experiences mirrors the fight of someone battling cancer.

“Pretty much all of us know someone who has had cancer, and as firefighters we are very aware of how cancer affects people,” she said.

It’s no wonder these firefighters, all of whom are volunteers with the exception of Willie, who is the only full-time firefighter, choose to participate each year in the sweltering heat to show their support for the cause. They are used to making these types of sacrifices. In their line of work, they are out there giving their time and risking their lives to save the lives of others.

“I think [saving lives] is what Panerathon is all about, so in a way, Panerathon helps us achieve that same goal.”

Willie’s firefighting recently relocated him to Georgia, but he returned to the Valley for Panerathon and plans to continue doing so every year. The event has come to mean a lot to him in particular. His father, called “Red”, was present at every Panerathon since the Firefighters in Pink first began participating. He referred to himself as the “equipment manager” for the group, and he served as a morale booster out there in his chair cheering on the participants each year. Red passed away July 10 of this year, just a month and a half before Panerathon, after becoming sick in late 2017. Stephanie said Red’s passing made this both a more difficult and a more special Panerathon for the few participants who knew him well.

“Willie would give anyone the shirt off his back if they needed it, so we were out there supporting Willie this year,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie went on to explain how Willie’s commitment to helping others goes beyond his daily duties as a firefighter. He currently performs lectures on suicide prevention among firefighters in his new home in Georgia and hopes to one day take his lectures on the road across the country.

Stephanie said she, Willie, and the rest of the Firefighters in Pink look forward to next year’s Panerathon and hopefully adding even more people to their crew.

She equated their participation in event to their passion for their jobs saying, “We want to be there. We do it because we enjoy it and to be out there with the community.”

Essentially they do it because they care.

We are grateful to Stephanie, Willie and all firefighters, EMTs, and police officers who are out there saving lives every day, and we thank the Firefighters in Pink for their part in making Panerathon the special community event it is.

To learn more about Firefighters in Pink and how you can join them, find Steph Deitch on Facebook or email her at

For more information on Panerathon, visit

Cousins for a Cause – An inspiring story about what Panerathon means to one special family

Every year on a Sunday in late August, hundreds of teams and individuals gather together in downtown Youngstown, Ohio to walk, jog, or run for one common cause: to raise funds for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center (JACBCC) at St. Elizabeth Hospital Youngstown. This facility, which opened its doors in 2011, has served nearly 70,000 women in the region, and is responsible for improved outcomes for so many dealing with the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer.

There are countless stories to tell among the women helped by the JACBCC and about those who participate as part of a team in Panerathon. One particular story, the story of Marianne Burman and her cousin Mary Argiro, is one we were lucky enough to hear and fortunate enough to get to share now as our annual Panerathon approaches in a few short weeks.

In 2014, Marianne was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found her own lump during a self-breast exam, even after it went undetected through traditional mammography. Her cousin Mary watched Marianne ‘fight the battle’, going through grueling rounds of radiation and chemo until she was finally through it. Mary created a Panerathon team in Marianne’s honor the following year, called ‘Marching with Marianne’ and encouraged their big, close-knit Italian family to join the team and show their support by walking alongside Marianne, who had just been through the struggle of a lifetime.

“The hardest part was the treatment. It’s the worst thing in the world someone can go through, and I was even lucky. I never got sick with the chemo,” Marianne recalled.

She also noted the incredible feeling of isolation she felt. Marianne and Mary are part of the Ginnetti clan, a large family originally from Struthers, Ohio. The Ginnettis pride themselves on their camaraderie, making it a priority to stay close to cousins through their monthly Ginnetti Girls’ Night Out, annual Christmas parties, and frequent family reunions. Marianne, however, had to avoid large groups of people during her treatment due to her compromised immune system. A grandmother of three, she was also unable to see her grandkids throughout the extent of her treatment. This, to her, was the most heartbreaking part of it all. During that time, any phone call or card she received from a family member or friend meant so much. It helped ease the feeling of separation.

For Marianne, that feeling completely disappeared on Sunday, August 30 when she was joined by nearly 40 members of her extended family at the 2015 Panerathon, all there to show their love for her.

“The support meant so much to me. That’s why it’s so important to me now to show my support for others,” she said.

That’s the reason Marianne, Mary and the rest of their cousins continue to put together a team every year, even though Marianne has been cancer-free since that first year. Their team, now called ‘Cousins for a Cause’, has grown to more than 60 participants over the last 4 years, mostly consisting of cousins and extended family members all from all around the Mahoning Valley area.

“There’s strength in numbers,” said Mary. “At first, I started participating in Panerathon to support Marianne, but once you’re there, it’s a whole new world. The feeling comes over you that you aren’t just supporting the person you came there to walk for, but you’re supporting everyone else, too. THAT’S strength in numbers.”
Marianne agreed, “There’s nothing like seeing the mass of people all wearing the same shirt all lined up on race day. It takes your breath away.”

Unfortunately, cancer touches the lives of nearly everyone somehow, and several other family members were also diagnosed over the years. Marianne’s sister Susan McCallister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and in 2018 Mary was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Mary was just released this past June from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital recovering both a partial kidney removal and an adrenal gland removal.

The good news: at this year’s Panerathon, Marianne, Susan and Mary will all three be officially cancer-free.

“You definitely feel like you have a guardian angel looking out for you. We all feel like we’ve been blessed,” Mary said.

So blessed, that the Ginnetti cousins, 13 of them in total, all crossed a huge item off their collective bucket list together. They took a trip to Italy for 10 days to see the incredible sights of their country of origin and even enter the house where Mary’s mother, also a breast cancer survivor, was born. Both women found themselves getting emotional as they recounted their travels.

“It was incredible to see the place where my mother was born. We were back where it all started,” Mary said.

(Fun fact: Mary’s mother was treated by Dr. Nancy Gantt, who is still a practicing surgeon at St. Elizabeth today and is highly involved at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center. It was Dr. Gantt who operated on Mary’s mom to remove and cure her cancer.)

The Ginnetti cousins will never forget their amazing trip to Italy, but the best part was getting to spend time with more than 30 new family members they had never met before.

“None of them spoke any English, and none of us spoke Italian. We had only a 15-year-old girl translating for us,” Marianne recalled.

They may not have shared the same language, but they all shared the very same sense of family and closeness that defines the Ginnetti cousins.

Mary and Marianne hope to continue to grow their Panerathon team. Their last family reunion had more than 75 people in attendance, all of whom they hope to eventually encourage to participate. Perhaps, they’ll even get a few of their new family members from Italy to join, too!

In any event, they both agreed that they are looking forward to seeing the faces of those they love all gathered together, old and young, to show support for one another and for everyone else there that day who may need it.

You can find Mary, Marianne and their ‘Cousins for a Cause’ team Sunday, August 26 at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown lined up along with nearly 11,000 other participants and spectators. A mass of people, all likely to have equally inspiring stories to share about how cancer has touched their lives and what the event means to them.

Panerathon in the City of YOU
Thanks to the City of Youngstown and Birds Eye View Films for putting together this awesome video that captures what Panerathon is all about!

For more on Panerathon or to register, visit The event has raised more than $2 million since 2010 for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, and 100% of proceeds benefits the cause.

Coach Fickell and The 2nd & 7 Foundation team up with Panera Bread to Tackle Illiteracy

When you’re a small child in the 2nd grade, there is nothing more impressive to you than a high school or college athlete. Nothing more impressive nor influential.

In 1999, three former Ohio State University football players Luke Fickell, Ryan Miller and Mike Vrabel realized this potential due to their own outreach and volunteer experiences and decided to use it to help make a lasting difference on the Central Ohio community. They began the 2nd & 7 Foundation, named for the original seven 2nd grade classrooms they read to (and also an obvious homage to their football roots).

The Foundation’s mission has remained the same since the beginning: to promote reading by providing free books and positive role models to kids in need while encouraging young athletes of the community to pay it forward.

This mission was hard to contain to just Central Ohio, and over the last 19 years, the 2nd & 7 Foundation has provided books to children in 24 states and in 170 schools. The organization, which writes and publishes its own books featuring the adventures of the Hog Mollies, has recently placed its largest order for books in its history.

While the 2nd & 7 Foundation has always had a presence in the Cincinnati area, their program blossomed when Luke Fickell, who spent most of his career serving as assistant football coach at The Ohio State University, was hired at the University of Cincinnati as their new head coach in 2016. When he arrived in Cincinnati, he immediately began reading in schools with student-athletes and helped open doors for the growth of the organization in the Cincinnati market. More than 10,000 books have already been distributed in the area.

Our Cincinnati Panera Bread cafes are proudly partnered with the 2nd and 7 Foundation during the months of July and August. We will be collecting funds at the Covelli Cares collection canisters at the registers of all Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area Panera Bread cafes. All funds raised will support the growth of the reading program in the Cincinnati community.

The partnership also strives to get books into the hands of as many kids as possible, so for the entire month of August, a free Hog Mollie book from the 2nd & 7 Foundation will be provided with every Panera Bread kids meal purchased at participating Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky locations.

“We are grateful for the support from the team at Covelli and Panera Bread. The support of our corporate partners and our friends in the community means we are able to get more free books in the hands of kids who need them the most,” said Coach Fickell. “We also value every opportunity we have to plant the seeds of paying it forward with our student-athletes.”

While the organization tends to focus on lower-income areas and schools where the biggest impact can be made, Executive Director Amy Hoying said, “There is a need to reinforce the importance of reading in all second graders.”

Next year the Foundation will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Hoying said they hope to continue to improve the lives in the communities they serve by staying true to their mission.

Hoying looks forward to more growth in the next 20 years and credits the support of the community for the success of the program thus far. “Thank you to Panera Bread for this partnership because we wouldn’t be where we are today without our partners and the awareness within the community.”

Panera’s kids menu includes more than 40 entrees choices made with all-clean ingredients combined with healthy items like apples or organic yogurt…and in Cincinnati this month, a book also comes on the side.

Rachel’s Challenge at Panera Bread – What we can all learn from a group of kids

Imagine you’re walking into Panera Bread to enjoy a breakfast sandwich and an iced coffee on a Saturday morning in late May. As you enter, though, you are halted by a group of middle school girls all dressed in the same organization’s t-shirt. Your first thoughts may likely be… what are these kids going to ask me for? How much are they are going to request I donate to their cause?

What would you do if these kids then offered to purchase your entire breakfast for you? Would you skeptically ask them what the catch is?  Would your mouth hang open in amazement? Would you believe that this group of kids has no other purpose than to spread a message of kindness?

Believe it.

Every day we are bombarded with stories in the media of bullying, teen suicide, and school violence. There’s an organization out there that’s working to change that narrative. It’s a group consisting of very special middle schoolers, like the ones who showed up at one of our West Akron Panera Bread cafes on the last Saturday in May to surprise unsuspecting guests with free meals, gift cards and other gestures of benevolence.

These students are part of Rachel’s Challenge, an organization with chapters across the country that works to prevent violence and promote the importance of kindness in schools. The movement is inspired by a story of tragedy that we are all familiar with. Rachel Scott was the first student lost in the 1999 Columbine school shooting. She was killed while eating lunch outside on the school lawn with one of her friends. After she died, many students reached out to her parents with stories of how Rachel touched their lives with her small acts of kindness, even helping to prevent a fellow student from taking his own life. Rachel’s story is now the foundation for the organization’s mission to make schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with compassion and respect.

For 40 students at Fairlawn’s Revere Middle School, Rachel’s Challenge is an important part of their school lives. The group meets monthly and discusses topics like anti-bullying, violence, and how to respect others who are different. The student members gather toys and gifts for foster kids in the area during the holidays and work all year to fundraise for their annual Pay It Forward event through which they perform random acts of generosity for strangers. On this one day, the students spread out across the Akron area purchasing groceries for people, supplying gift cards to restaurants, paying for haircuts, and distributing cold bottles of water to people leaving the gym. They also buy breakfast for our fortunate Panera Bread guests.

This year the students at Revere raised a record-breaking $4,000 to make their Pay It Forward day possible.

A program proponent in a video featured on the Rachel’s Challenge website ( mentions how adults sometimes write off the young kids of today as lost and lacking respect. Adults often feel the need to tell kids what they can’t do instead of giving them a purpose and showing them what they can do.

Jeanette Geer is not one those adults. She is the Rachel’s Challenge advisor at Revere, and she is also mom to middle-schooler, Tate, who will be entering the 8th grade this fall and is an active member of the group. Jeanette believes the Rachel’s Challenge program filled a necessary gap for middle schoolers looking to understand the world around them and the stories they hear in the media.

rever-post-680x404Geer also noted the “domino effect” that is incited by the group saying, “At Panera, we had one lady give all our students hugs in return for their acts of kindness, and a group of old men asked the kids what they were doing, and when the kids replied that they were with Rachel’s Challenge and revealed what they had planned, the men decided to buy all the kids their breakfasts.”

The kindness was contagious. 

So what do you have to do to get 40 middle school students up early on a weekend to spend their personal time doing kind deeds for others? It turns out, not much. All they need it is the opportunity. Rachel’s Challenge is providing them that opportunity and is doing so for students across the country as it works to transform schools and communities into positive, collaborative, and uplifting environments. And if there’s any question of what we can all learn from a collection of young kids, the answer is…perhaps a lot.

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.