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Covelli Enterprises to Open 250th Panera in Boardman
WARREN, Ohio – Covelli Enterprises will mark its 15th anniversary as a franchisee of Panera Bread with the opening of its 250th Panera location, owner/operator Sam Covelli said.
“Our first store was opened in Boardman 15 years ago. We’re going to put our 250th store in Boardman 15 years later at the end of this year,” Covelli remarked. “That’s exciting.”
Covelli plans to announce the new store at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s annual meeting Thursday, where he will receive the William G. Lyden Spirit of the Valley Award. “It’s quite an honor,” he said.
The new Boardman Panera will be located on Market Street south of Route 224, next to Dunkin Donuts and across from the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp.’s headquarters. Like the bakery/café Covelli opened in Niles about two years ago, the restaurant will feature a drive-through window. Plans for the restaurant were completed recently and bids will go out soon.
“Panera has been incredible for us. We’re growing faster than ever,” the former McDonald’s franchisee said. “These are exciting times. … Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Covelli acknowledged that many people questioned his decision to forsake the relatively safe McDonald’s for the then-new Panera brand but he felt the timing was right. “We loved the products” and got “excited about the concept,” he recalled.
Among the stores Covelli will be opening this year are additional Paneras in Canada, bringing the total there to eight this year, and two stores in the eastbound and westbound Ohio Turnpike service plazas -- Mahoning Valley and Glacier Hills -- near the Pennsylvania line. Covelli operates four other Paneras on the turnpike. The two new restaurants will be paired with Dairy Queen restaurants as well, and hiring is under way for the operations in both plazas.
The turnpike commission gets more compliments on the Panera stores than they do any of their other restaurants, according to Covelli.
The two Mahoning County service plazas, which have been closed for reconstruction, will reopen around the middle of May, said Lauren Hakos, marketing and communications manager for the Ohio Turnpike Commission. She said the commission is “very pleased” with Covelli Enterprises and its operation of the Panera Bread restaurants at the Middle Ridge/Vermilion Valley and Towpath/Great Lakes service plazas.
“Panera is a very popular brand with turnpike customers,” she affirmed, “and we are excited that Covelli Enterprises will have an expanded role as the sole restaurant operator at the Mahoning Valley/Glacier Hills service plazas, with not only Panera Bread, but also a Dairy Queen with Orange Julius restaurant operation for customers.”
Fitting the Panera Bread model into the often unforgiving travel pattern of the turnpike travel centers -- in which motorists are often in a rush to get in and get out quickly -- hasn’t been a hurdle, Covelli said. “We feel that we can give the service time that is needed,” he said. Also, the Dairy Queen restaurants will be “kind of a compliment” to the Panera Bread cafes.
For late at night, when the main Panera turnpike restaurant is closed, there will be a coffee area featuring pastries open around the clock, he said.
Hiring for the turnpike stores is “going well,” said Julie Ault, recruiting and hiring coordinator for Covelli Enterprises. Panera is conducting open interviews at two locations, with a third to be added on Monday.
“We’re going to hire approximately 200 people so we’re out there advertising and making sure people know about it,” Ault said. Employees already hired for the turnpike operations are also undergoing training to work in the restaurants.
In addition to the two turnpike DQ outlets, Covelli will open a stand-alone DQ near his O’Charley’s restaurant at the Eastwood Mall complex in Niles. “It’ll be a special type unit. It’ll be a big one,” with an expanded food menu including Orange Julius, a related company, he said. “It’ll be the latest and greatest of Dairy Queen.”
That store is due to open around July 4, said Allen Ryan, Covelli Enterprises’ director of corporate affairs. The company also owns Orange Julius/Karmelkorn stores in the Eastwood and Southern Park malls as well as in Erie. Southern Park already sells DQ products and ice cream will be added to the other two stores, Ryan said.
Covelli says he is considering expanding further with Dairy Queen. “We’re looking at a lot of different options,” he said.
The restaurateur also said he is pleased to see the success being enjoyed by the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown under the management of Eric Ryan, who is not related to his corporate affairs director. The Covelli Centre recently added O’Charley’s items to the menu at its concession stands as part of a consulting agreement with Covelli Enterprises connected to its naming rights agreement. Covelli Enterprises is not paid for those services.
“Anything we can do to enhance the center we want to be a part of,” Covelli said. Eric Ryan is “doing a tremendous job,” booking shows that often sell out and making money for the city of Youngstown, which owns the building.
The current naming rights deal -- a one-year extension of the prior three-year agreement requested by the city as it contemplates whether to sell or lease the building -- expires in May. Although he did not appear interested in a more active role with the arena as part of a partnership group to operate it, Covelli indicated he is interested in at least another three-year deal “and then we could go from there,” he said.
“As long as people like Eric are involved, everybody’s doing things first class and doing things right, we’ll be there to help them in any way we can as far as promoting the shows, and we’ll keep the naming rights,” he said. “We’ll be proud to have the naming rights.”
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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