Sam Covelli talks success and growth of Covelli Enterprises - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Sam Covelli talks success and growth of Covelli Enterprises

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WARREN, Ohio -

20 years ago, Covelli Enterprises sold its interest in McDonald's to franchise Panera Bread restaurants. It was a bold move that really paid off. The company now has more than 300 locations and employs 32-thousand people. 

The company grew from humble beginnings. In 1959, Albert Covelli bought his first McDonald's in Warren and founded Covelli Enterprises.

His son, Sam, was only 8 years old at the time and he says his dad couldn't keep him out of the restaurant.

"I had ketchup in my veins they say," said Covelli.

Covelli worked in that first McDonald's learning the in's and out's of the restaurant business. 

"Every position there was in McDonald's, whether it was maintenance, whatever it was, I was involved in everything," said Covelli.

By 1997, Covelli Enterprises owned about 50 McDonald's and was one of the largest franchisees of McDonald's in the country. However, the hamburger kings decided to give up their throne.

"I saw some studies, restaurant studies that we had looked at that showed trends were changing. There were people starting to, not that, it was a great company still at the time McDonald's, but the trends were so many people were looking for fast casual that was a different type of restaurant," said Covelli.

The Covelli's fell in love with that fast casual concept and decided to sell their McDonald's and bought their first Panera Bread in Boardman.

"We loved the food and I had people testing it with me when we were looking at the different restaurants. We thought at the time though they were small cafe's and we thought we could do something more with them and do even more volume. We didn't just want a neighborhood cafe, we wanted the same food but wanted to enhance it and do a lot of different things with it, with our experience being with McDonald's," said Covelli.

The Covelli's started opening Panera Breads all over the country and now 20 years later they have over 300 locations in a half dozen states and Canada. 

"It's hard to believe, I have to pinch myself sometimes," said Covelli.

Covelli Enterprises has become the largest franchisee of Panera Breads and built a billion dollar empire in Warren.

Covelli could have their headquarters anywhere in the country, but Sam Covelli says it's not going anywhere.

"We actually have a lot of people wonder, they say would you ever move your headquarters. I have NO intention, if anything we're going to keep growing this one," said Covelli.

So what is the secret to their success?

"We absolutely refuse to take shortcuts. We want to do things the right way, standards can never be too high. We want people that are friendly that care about our customers that come in our restaurants, we don't take them for granted. I've always said our customer is our boss and at the same time we want, everybody knows that has ever worked for me, I'm crazy about cleanliness in our restaurants and I want the cleanest restaurants all the time and we pride ourselves on that. We also want to have the best people, and when I say the best people, they better be the friendliest people and you can do all that but you still got to have the best food. Customers go where they have the right choices for the right products and I think Panera, I sound a little biased saying this, but our food I think is the best and our customers are telling us that with the volume that we're doing," said Covelli.

Sam says these are standards that he learned from his father Albert who passed away in 2014.

"My father always had work ethic, he just, he worked hard his whole life, he always believed in that and he always had high standards from day one. He always wanted his restaurant to be impeccable. I remember going back to visit the restaurants at night and checking on him and what was going on and being there with him but he always cared about the people that worked for him," he said.

Still to this day, Covelli visits his stores to make sure the associates are living up the standards set by Albert and Sam Covelli.

"We want people to be happy because they’re getting the right products, the best food, the best customer service and the cleanest restaurant. I want to be able to go up to any one of my customers in my restaurant and ask them how everything is. I want them to be honest with me. I want to make sure they have the right experience and I don’t want them to leave this restaurant without being happy and if they’re not, I’m going to find out why," said Covelli.

Covelli Enterprises core philosophy wouldn't be complete without giving back. In 2016 alone, the company gave more than $28 million dollars to different charities and organizations.

"I absolutely believe that if you're a successful business you have an obligation to give back to that community. We want to be the heartbeat of every community that our restaurants are in and that's always going to be our philosophy," said Covelli.

It's not just giving back but also sparking the local economy. Covelli Enterprises provides jobs to some 4-thousand people in the Valley who give service with a smile. 

"It's a good feeling to see your company growing the right way. Good people getting opportunities and you want that to continue," said Covelli.

Covelli says he has no plans of slowing down. He says his kids are now involved in the business and their goal is to keep Covelli Enterprises growing. 

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