Covelli Enterprises was founded in 1959 by Albert Covelli and its first restaurant was McDonald's. There have been many changes at Covelli since 1959, specifically the restaurants in its portfolio but the values have stayed constant. The firm still emphasizes treating customers and employees with respect and dignity. In addition, Covelli makes giving back to the community a priority. We recently spoke with Albert's son and current CEO Sam Covelli about the company's history and the changes going on in the restaurant industry.
Please visit the Covelli Enterprises website at Covelli.com to learn more about the company.
Covelli was the largest franchisee of McDonald's at one point. Will you talk about the decision to divest from McDonald's and invest in Panera Bread?
We saw surveys that showed consumer trends changing. People were starting to look for something other than fast food. Tests began to indicate a change in consumer beliefs. We felt Panera Bread was the perfect choice for the future because of the quality of the food. We knew we could combine the strengths of the Panera Bread concept and use our experience in the restaurants industry to make a successful business.
There are many initiatives trying to help kids stay in shape and eat healthy. What has Covelli done to promote this trend?
We continually make partnerships with organizations that promote healthy eating and fitness. We support many events throughout the communities we serve that promote healthy living. In Columbus, we are the Official Restaurant Partner of the Capital City Half Marathon, and we also sponsor events like the Healthy New Albany Walking Classic, The Columbus Marathon and other local races and programs that promote healthy lifestyle choices. We’ve pushed for changes on our menus and helped roll out an entire new drink line. We’ve partnered with organizations like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the American Cancer Society to identify healthy menu items and to support the education of young people. We were awarded Partner of the Year in 2011 for our Panera Bread Kids Walk Program that we founded.
Quick Service Restaurants have become very popular. How has Covelli dealt with this and what impact has this had on Covelli Enterprises?
We are fortunate that we are able to keep increasing sales. Our business continues to do well. We feel fortunate that we have continued to grow. We continue to be flexible when we need to be, and we remember to always be the best at what we do…have the best products… the best people… and the cleanest restaurants. We have received the most awards from Panera Bread in history in regards to our operations. We are proud of that.
Will you talk about the culture in your stores and how you are able to maintain it?
We are continually training and hiring great people. That is our biggest focus and the way we are able to grow and maintain our culture across our restaurants. We continue to push for the highest standards and make sure the people we hire think and feel the same way. We want them to take pride in what we do. We want our people in each community to be the heartbeat in that community. We want them to get to know their customers like family. Of course, we continue to give back to the community to show our employees what is important to us as a company. We never lower our standards regardless of the store count we have. We are forced to be more professional and more diligent as we get bigger, but that only helps us move forward while creating jobs and goodwill in these communities.
How much does Covelli lean on its own marketing team relative to the corporate Panera Bread marketing team?
We work very closely with the Panera Bread marketing team. They support our Covelli marketing teams and provide us with resources to be able to promote our company and our priorities in each community we serve. We are blessed to have hired talented people who work seamlessly under the Panera Bread umbrella.
On the Covelli website it says that the goal is to promote staffers to managers through internal training. Will you talk a little about that process and how rewarding it is for your employees?
We love to hire from within because our people already have the passion for Panera Bread. We are taking less of a gamble when we know they love the food as much as we do. We have less turnover when we do this, and our employees appreciate the opportunities to grow within our company. We will hire from outside when our growth is such that we need to bring on more people, but we like to reward our best people with opportunities for growth.
According to your website, Covelli donates more than $23M to non-profits. Will you talk a little more about giving back and what can Covelli employees do to get more involved?
Giving back is the backbone of our business. It’s what keeps us going. Covelli Enterprises employees volunteer regularly through company events and initiatives hosted throughout the year. In Columbus, our Panera Employees donate time quarterly to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank by helping organize and package food supplies or serve community meals. We also provide opportunities to volunteer at community events that we sponsor. The biggest way our employees get involved with our philanthropy, is by working closely with churches, food banks and shelters near their cafés to set up daily food pick-ups. This is called our Day End Dough-Nation program, wherein, we donate all leftover bakery product at the end of each day to those in need. Our employees make an impact daily in these communities and form relationships with their local partners. They are fortunate to be in the community themselves and see how their hard work and the food donations can make a difference for so many in need.
I am assuming that Covelli receives many requests for donation requests. How does the process work and how difficult is it to have to turn some requests down?
We have made our community donations a priority. We want to do the most we are possibly able to do and help the most number of charities that we can. We listen to our
customers, and try to donate where we feel there is the most need and
where our customers want to see our support in their communities. To us,
we don’t give donations to get recognition; we do it because it’s the
right thing to do.
Finally, any advice for other entrepreneurs?
There are no short cuts in business. There is no easy winner in anything. You need to put the time and the sweat in, and you need to follow up on everything you do in your business. You can have the greatest plan in the world, but without follow-up you will have failure. You better love whatever you sell. Start out with the best product. Like us, we start out with the best food, and we think that we have the cleanest restaurants and the best marketing program to sell it. All three are important. The most important component in selling anything is to have the best people selling it. The key is the people that work for you.