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

Confidence comes with your diploma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Marine is grateful for friendships and kindness

Wounded Warriors Family Support Group helps Josh Sust buy truck


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panera Pink Ribbon Bagel Spokesperson Serves As Inspiration

If you are lucky enough to meet Sarah Cawley, you’ll be changed by the experience. All of us who have gotten to know this Medina woman have been inspired by her courage, strength, wisdom and compassion.

Columbus nonprofit seeks to help domestic violence victims

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

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

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

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

But it wasn’t an easy transition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the official press release here.

Businesses have an important role to play in society

Whitney M. Young Award reminded me of that responsibility

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


Please allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bake the Baguettes for Lily

I have a new reason for going to work every day. She’s not very big and she doesn’t eat a lot. But as long as our Panera baguettes are her favorite food, I’m going to make sure that Lily Von Glahn has as many baguettes as she can handle.

For nearly a whole year, Lily, now 9 years old, had no appetite and the only food that her mother, Heather, could get her to eat were our Panera baguettes. Lilly, who was diagnosed with high risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in August of 2014, went through an entire year of chemotherapy and had to miss the third grade because she could not risk being near others.

She will have another year of therapy but Heather says her daughter is doing well. “She has proven to be incredibly strong and fierce and very much a fighter,” Heather wrote to us about her daughter.

We got to know Lily and Heather because Lily, who is battling cancer, is interested in what it takes to be a professional baker.

We found out about this interest and she and another child, Izzy Caminero, worked alongside Panera’s Baking Director Dallas Cox to win the titles of Panera Bread’s Junior “Ultimate Bakers” at an event we held in early February with A Special Wish Cleveland Chapter.

It’s always gratifying and humbling to be able to do things that help others. But this event was extremely important for me because of the special role that Panera has played for Lily, who had to live with a feeding tube during part of her chemotherapy treatments.


Team Panera members, who were coached by Panera Baking Director for the Cleveland Region Dallas Cox, strategized as the Junior Ultimate Baker event began. The team members are: Lily Von Glahn and Izzy Caminero.

Here’s what Heather wrote to us when we asked her to tell us a little more about Lily. Please keep in mind that we didn’t even ask her to tell us anything about our products.

“In that first year, Lily didn’t have an appetite (hence the feeding tube) but one food that I could usually get her to eat at least a few bites is a Panera baguette. I’m sure it sounds like I’m making that up for this story, but I promise you I’m not,” Heather wrote.

As a prize for her fine work as the Junior Ultimate Baker, Lily received numerous prizes, including a certificate for Panera bread for a year and that’s the one that Heather says she’ll value the most. “You have no idea how big of a deal that is in our house. I’m trying to convince her to try another type of bread, but so far it’s just the baguette that makes her smile,” she said.

She said the competition made her feel as though she really was a professional baker.

Lily, I guess I’ve written enough. I better make sure our bakers get those baguettes going.

Black History Month Honoree: Warren Mayor William “Doug” Franklin

I am proud to call Warren and the Mahoning Valley my home and the headquarters of our company, Covelli Enterprises. We have many accomplishments for which we can be proud. In 2011, Warren elected its first African-American mayor, William “Doug” Franklin.

Lessons from MLK inspire and educate young and not-so-young

People learn in all ways.

People learn in many different ways.  I believe that I learn best by studying others. I was fortunate to have learned from my parents and countless role models throughout my life.

And I am still learning – every day. I learned a lot and gained amazing inspiration from dozens of Pittsburgh youth who entered Covelli Enterprises’ Fourth Annual Martin Luther King Writing Contest and Leadership Award.

These young people, who will be presented with awards on Saturday, Jan. 16, showed great sensitivity, passion and energy for the ideals for which Dr. King worked.


Daviona Clemons,  author of the first place essay, titled “An Open Letter,” described how sad Dr. King would be if he could see the lack of progress in society. She wrote, “Dear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., If you could only see what I am seeing now, there would be no way to keep your tears from streaming down. The hurt that our people are going through today. It’s like your speeches didn’t amount to anything anyway.”

Daviona’s words are beautiful and she is an accomplished writer, but more importantly, her ideas convey the kind of unwavering hope that Dr. King had in humanity. “I believe in what you said that day. ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’”

I was honored to read her essay and am grateful for Daviona and the others who possess such wisdom at such an early age.

Thank you Daviona and thank you to all who entered.



The full list of winners is here:


1st Place: Daviona Clemons – An Open Letter

10th Grade – University Preparatory Academy

2nd Place: Johnte’ Jackson-Thomas – The time is always right to do what is right.

8th Grade – Falk Laboratory 

3rd Place: Frank Smart – Where Has the Time Gone?

10th Grade – University Preparatory Academy



Amir Hutchins – 11th Grade – University Prep

Rashawn Edmundson – 12th Grade – Barack Obama Academy

Damon Peters – University Prep

Terrell Coleman – 6th Grade -University Prep

Denay Clemons – 9th Grade – University Prep