Covelli Enterprises is the largest franchisee of Panera Bread with nearly 150 bakery-cafes in Ohio. Covelli owns and operates all of the Panera Bread bakery-cafes within the Central Ohio Region. The Dayton market was acquired in 2014 and earlier this year, the company acquired 21 bakery-cafés in the Cincinnati market. And, fun fact – the 2000th Panera was just opened by our company in Elyria, Ohio.
Covelli Enterprises is a family-owned business. Mr. Sam Covelli, our CEO, runs the business with a mind toward creating an environment of operational excellence – from the physical café environment, to the employees and, of course, the food. He has a high standard of excellence that is maintained across the entire franchise, and we hope that our customers recognize that when they walk into the cafes. Community involvement and the culture of giving back is also a high priority of the Covelli family. For example, $26 million was donated to local charities in 2015 alone, most of that in the form of day-end food donations given to local food banks. Covelli Enterprises is also active with a number of the region’s local charities including Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Autism Speaks of Central Ohio, the Stephanie Spielman Fund, and Pelotonia.
What are the services you use the most (or are looking forward to using) from the Columbus Chamber?
We meet with our MRS, Haley Sherman, regularly and have great conversations about different business development strategies. She brings a lot to the table when it comes to our strategies related to marketing, business development and networking with other area businesses. We’ve recently engaged our Cleveland-Area catering team and look forward to expanding our relationship with Haley and with the Chamber.
But, our primary reason for joining the Chamber was staying connected to the Columbus community. Across all of our markets, we have found that the Columbus Chamber makes connecting and staying involved easier and better than any of the other organizations we have joined.
How do you stay engaged with trends that you see in your industry?
Panera Bread has done a great job in establishing itself as a leader in the food service industry. The brand is always ahead of the trends nationally. We were the first national chain to put the calorie counts on the boards, and we have recently committed to providing food free from all artificial colors, flavors, additives and preservatives by the end of 2016. We were watching those trends nationally and locally and have acted on them in a big way. Technology is another area where Panera has proven itself as a leader in the field. The ‘Rapid Pick-up System’ is a great example of how Panera has capitalized on the ordering online trend. Customers can order their food from their computer or smart phone and pick it up in the café. And, coming later this year, digital ordering kiosks will be installed at local stores here in Columbus, keeping Panera ahead of the curve. In the Dayton Market, the ‘Small Order Delivery’ feature was unveiled just last month, allowing our cafes to deliver personal orders placed same day. This will revolutionize the way individual employees think about “having lunch at their desks” and keeps Panera Bread more than competitive in the food service industry.
What do you think differentiates you from your competitors?
Doing the right thing and doing it because it is the right thing, and not for any other reason. Things like donating leftover food nightly to food banks and providing a clean and healthy food product because it is the best thing for the customer. We have found that the customer appreciates these things and they keep coming back to us as a result.
What is your company culture like?
It’s fun! The staff is really like a large family unit. We volunteer together, attend events together, and hang out together. But, it is important to know that this attitude and culture starts at the top. The Covelli family is active in the community and attends the events with our staff, and it resonates into each café.
What advice would you have appreciated hearing when first starting your career?
Be prepared for change. Don’t get used to something because as soon as you do, things will change. That is a sign of a growing and healthy business. At Panera Bread, that means new menu items, new systems, new processes – something is always changing. A strong employee understands that a healthy business is always changing and evolving and that you have to change and evolve with it to go to the next level.
How does your business value work/life balance?
We have a really flexible work environment, allowing staff to work when best for them. Panera Bread is a huge, globally recognized brand but Covelli Enterprises is still a family-owned business and family is very important. That shows when we engage with the staff.
What inspired the business to be what it is today?
Mr. Albert Covelli Senior, who has passed, was the founder of Covelli Enterprises. He started the company from nothing, working as a vendor selling potatoes to McDonald’s Restaurants. Over the years of interacting with the business, he took a chance and became a franchisee. With a lot of hard work, Albert’s team grew from one restaurant in Warren, Ohio into the largest McDonald’s franchisee. In the 1990’s, Albert and his son Sam, now CEO, saw an opportunity with Panera and developed a partnership. Watching his dad work from nothing and move up the chain with McDonald’s prepared Sam to take advantage of the opportunity with this new brand. Coupling that with the high standards of excellence expected at each café, Covelli grew into one of the most successful franchisees Panera Bread has to date.
Where is your favorite place to have a meeting outside of the office?
Panera Bread, hands down! It is fun to visit cafes in the different markets and see the subtle variations. Each General Manager is different and each café is a little different. But what makes them all Covelli is the clean, professional environment with high standards for friendly and customer-centric service.
Why do you think Columbus is a great place to do business?
Columbus is fabulous! The diversity and the growth the city is experiencing are unmatched, and it is a great feeling to be involved in that. Columbus is a foodie town, where people are really into what they are eating. They are educated and engaged and want a quality product. This is a very community-minded city, too, and our company culture fits in really well with that kind of mindset. The willingness to partner is also a huge benefit and unlike most places. There have been countless opportunities for us to meet companies and network and work to build both brands. The Columbus Chamber is an integral part of that process and contributes to what is unique about Columbus.