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

Year In Review by Mr. Covelli

Wow! What a year it is has been…

Between opening new stores, acquiring new markets, and relocating and renovating several existing locations, we’ve had a busy 2018 to say the least!

One of the most exciting things to happen was the relocation of our very first Panera Bread ever in Boardman, Ohio. We opened the cafe the summer of 1998 when most people had never even heard of Panera Bread.  Fast forward 20 years and look where the concept is today! This September, we relocated that very first cafe just around the corner, and it now features a drive thru, delivery service, and the latest in store model upgrades with an updated, modern design. The opening marks 20 full years of Panera Bread for our company, and we couldn’t be prouder of how far we’ve come with the brand in the last two decades.

This move, along with other relocations and drive thru retrofits, is all part of our focus on fulfilling the commitment to our customers to continue to grow, to improve, to provide new conveniences, and most importantly, to give back.

Our goal is to keep delivering on our promise to serve the community in any way we can.

As I look back on this year, I’m overwhelmed with everything we’ve been able to accomplish, and I’m grateful for the support of our patrons, guests, and friends for helping us make it happen.

It began at the start of 2018 when we were able to donate $60,000 to the US Marine’s Toys for Tots as a result of fundraising efforts across all of our markets during the month of December last year. These funds will ensure local Toys for Tots Foundations are able to provide gifts and hope for children in the areas we serve. Many of our markets supported this cause again in 2018, and we continue to be the largest contributor to the local Toys for Tots program where we are headquartered for more than three decades now.

This year we launched Covelli Cares, a program designed to formalize the philanthropy that has always been a part of our culture at Covelli Enterprises. This program encompasses our community donations, corporate giving, fundraising promotions, partnerships with local non-profit organizations, and local volunteer activities. 100% of all donations to Covelli Cares benefits non-profit partners in the communities we serve.

Our annual Pieces of Hope for Autism campaign was another huge success. Each year we sell our specially-designed puzzle piece cookies for a week in April with 100% of the proceeds benefitting local autism programs, hospitals, centers, organizations and advocate groups. This year’s cookie campaign put us over the $2 million mark for funds raised for this cause.

In many of our newly acquired markets, we were thrilled to develop some new relationships with various non-profits. In Cincinnati, we began a first-time partnership with the 2nd & 7 Foundation to promote literacy and provide positive role models for children in at-risk communities. In South Carolina and Georgia, we launched a Summer of Wishes campaign in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation that resulted in nearly $20,000 to grant wishes to sick children and their families. In our Central and Northeast Ohio markets, we continued to foster both new and existing partnerships with groups like Flying Horse Farms, Pink Ribbon Girls, Animal Protective League, local Children’s Hospitals, and the LeBron James Family Foundation and their new I Promise School that opened this year in Akron.

We hosted our largest Panerathon 10K/2 Mile Walk/Run in its nine-year history with 12,000 participants and spectators. The event, held in Youngstown near our headquarters, has raised more than $2.5 million for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center since 2010. This event continues to grow each year, and we can’t wait to see what our 10th annual event will bring in the coming year!

Our Pink Ribbon Bagel campaign launched in October to raise funds for local breast cancer organizations in our communities. The campaign along with our additional fundraising efforts has raised nearly $6.5 million since 2010. These funds have been used to open new breast cancer facilities, purchase mobile mammography units, support education and outreach programs, and provide transportation and assistance for those undergoing treatment.

In November, we hosted yet another annual tradition offering free meals to veterans and military service members in honor of Veterans Day. We have fed more than 150,000 veterans since 2011 and have donated more than $1.7 million in food and monetary support to military organizations since the tradition began.

And, of course, we have continued to donate the leftover bread and baked goods from our cafes every night to hunger relief agencies and food banks in our neighborhoods and surrounding areas. This program, our Day-End Dough-Nation program, benefits thousands of partners each year and provides millions of dollars in food product to those in need.

I look forward to 2019 being another year of unparalleled growth for us. I feel fortunate to be able to use our success in business to be able to make a positive impact on our communities. It’s something I feel more passionate about with every passing year, especially as the end of year approaches.

I wish to thank our loyal customers for allowing us to continue doing what we do. We are able to do all this because of YOU.  I wish you all a 2019 filled with love, prosperity, and joy.

Thank you sincerely
– Sam

Father’s Day Reflections

It’s been a little while since I last shared some of my personal thoughts with you all. We have had many exciting things happen within our company over the course of this year! We began a wave of new store openings in our home state of Ohio, and we acquired several new cafes in Tennessee! We just keep growing! These are the things that make me really excited for the future of our company.

Speaking of future… I have even more to look forward to this year with the expected birth of my very first grandchild. My wife Caryn and I cannot contain our excitement nor can we wait to shower our future grandson with so much love and attention!

fathers-day-2-500This past Sunday was Father’s Day, and I couldn’t help but think of my own father and all the wisdom, energy, and passion he put forth in all aspects of his life. He was such an incredible businessman that I was fortunate enough to learn from. He was even more incredible a father, husband, and grandfather to our entire family. With his dedication and commitment to others, he was not only the foundation of Covelli Enterprises while he was alive, he was the foundation of our family.

That’s the kind of man I strive to be day-in and day-out to make him proud and honor his legacy. That’s the kind of people my wife and I have raised our children to be. I am eager to watch my son holding his very own son in his arms in just a few short months. What a special moment that will be.

So, while I use Father’s Day as an excuse to look back, reminisce, and even long for the past – just another moment to spend with my dad – I also use it as a reminder of all the exciting things to come. Our family, both on the business side of things and on the personal side, continues to grow in ways I think my dad could have only dreamed of.

God bless all the dedicated fathers and grandfathers out there. Happy Father’s Day to all!


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.

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!


Delivering Goodness: The APL Days of Summer

I am a man who has been blessed with a loving family, a great business, fantastic customers, wonderful colleagues and amazing pets who have  touched my heart.

Yes, I am an animal lover.

And so is my whole family. For years, my wife, Caryn, has donated countless hours to helping animals in need. And, as a company, we’ve found many ways to help our four-legged friends.

I am especially proud of “APL Days of Summer Delivered by Panera Bread,” an initiative we held this past summer with the Cleveland Animal Protective League, Cleveland APL.

As part of our efforts to increase awareness for our new Panera delivery service in Northeast Ohio, we decided to partner with the Cleveland APL. 

We contributed $1 to the Cleveland APL for every delivery order completed  between July 1 and July 21. I am happy to say that our delivery service was spectacularly popular and we raised more than  $9,000 for the Cleveland APL  from that delivery promotion.  

But we didn’t stop there. Through our Operation Dough-Nation collection canisters, we raised additional funds in July and August. We presented a check to the Cleveland APL  for $24,588 during the organization’s September Telethon.

I am proud of that check, the vision, and caring that my colleagues and our customers displayed. And I am equally proud of our Panera team members who have been volunteering with the Cleveland APL.  

The Cleveland APL leadership explained to us how our partnership has helped the organization make a difference for more than 14,000 animals they serve each year. The APL rescues animals from abuse and neglect; helps good pet owners who are down on their luck; and finds thousands of animals the loving families they deserve.

It is absolutely wonderful to know that our success with our Panera Bread restaurants is helping worthy organizations like the Cleveland APL to continue to do great and important work.

Speaking for my entire family and all of my colleagues, including those with four legs, I want to thank everyone for supporting the Cleveland APL and Panera Bread in what was a gratifying and important initiative.

How far we’ve come with just a simple cookie…

It was nearly a decade ago that I was invited to the Rich Center for Autism on Youngstown State University’s campus. I receive many invitations to tour local facilities, and I am always touched by the incredible work being done in our communities, but for some reason this trip was extra special for me.

When I entered Fedor Hall, a building just outside YSU’s Kilcawley Center, and one I had likely passed many times on campus without ever noticing, I took note of the children’s paintings that hung in the main hallway. I saw children. They were playing, laughing, holding hands as they walked the halls, and learning. They were all unique, each with their own set of challenges and gifts. Some seemed to have more difficulty than others interacting, speaking or following commands. But I also saw teachers. Passionate educators guiding the groups of children, carefully addressing the unique needs of each child, dedicating themselves to providing them with every opportunity to grow and prosper with such compassion and patience. This place was special, and I knew it. And I knew we had to get involved.

We challenged our bakers to create something that could help raise awareness of autism among our vast customer base and also provide the much need monetary support for schools and centers like the Rich Center that do so much for families and children who are affected. It all started with a single puzzle piece shaped cookie. Today, that cookie, along with additional fundraising efforts, has resulted in $1.5 million donated to autism-related non-profit organizations in the communities we serve.

This special cookie is one of my favorite things we make. People look forward to its release since it is only available for a week each year in April. It’s made from our delicious shortbread cookie, sweet white icing and an edible puzzle piece decal, and we donate 100% of the proceeds to partners like the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism, Cincinnati Children’s Kelly O’Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dayton Children’s Autism Diagnostic Center, Autism Society of Northwest Pennsylvania, Autism Speaks of Central Ohio, The Rich Center for Autism at Youngstown State University, Potential Development, and The Dan Marino Foundation. This money goes to fund schools, hospital facilities, resources, research, treatments and advocacy for families.

We’re beyond proud of the work we’ve been able to support within our communities for those on the autism spectrum over the years. This special cookie has allowed us to make such a positive difference in our communities, which is what we aim to do through our products and our bakery-cafes every single day. We’ve come so far with just a simple cookie.

Knights of the Round Table Hold Court at Gahanna Panera Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The Power Pack-a-thon was a major success

Volunteers, including Panera associates from the Cincinnati area, packed a whopping 4,500 sacks of food at the Ninth Annual Power Pack-a-thon, on Martin Luther King Day in Cincinnati. The food will benefit chronically hungry children in the Cincinnati area.

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.