Covelli Enterprises is gearing up to open many new Panera Bread and Dairy Queen restaurants, citing regional growth and a strong financial foundation as reasons to expand its presence in the Mahoning Valley.
Covelli, the single largest Panera Bread franchisee in the country, which also operates O’Charley’s restaurants and a relatively new venture with Dairy Queen, will open six new quick- service restaurants in the coming months.
In all, 600 full- and part-time jobs will be created as a result, said Allen Ryan, director of corporate affairs for Warren-based Covelli Enterprises.
One of those new restaurants, a Panera Bread, will open near the Dunkin Donuts on Market Street sometime this fall. The location will be the company’s 250th Panera franchise and mark Covelli’s 15th anniversary, after it opened its first Panera on Route 224 in Boardman in 1998.
“There is more demand and growth out that way,” Ryan said in discussing why the company is opening its second location in Boardman. “Market Street has developed. A lot of retail businesses on Market Street are doing well, and we figure it’s a good spot with growth in traffic.”
The new Boardman location will be the franchisee’s first drive-through restaurant in Mahoning County.
Meanwhile, Covelli is on a hiring push to staff the four new restaurants it will begin operating in May when the Glacier Hills and Mahoning Valley turnpike plazas at mile post 237 in New Springfield open.
The company will operate two Dairy Queens and two Panera Breads on both sides of the highway.
Ryan said Covelli Enterprises became interested in the DQ franchise when it was in discussions with the Ohio Turnpike Commission about two years ago. At the time, the commission expressed a desire to have one operator offering food and beverage service at its new plazas.
The company thought it was a good fit and it since has begun buying or building DQs throughout the area, one of which, currently under construction near Eastwood Mall in Niles, will open in July.
Additionally, the company is offering O’Charley’s food products at the Covelli Centre. That deal was announced in March, after the auditorium’s executive director, Eric Ryan, expressed an interest in improving its food offerings.
“Mr. Covelli always said anything he could do inside to have a better experience, he would do,” Ryan said, referring to Sam Covelli, who has naming rights at the facility and owns Covelli Enterprises.
Ryan called the move “a great marriage” thus far.
Covelli Enterprises also is awaiting a trial run at company stores in the St. Louis area, where Panera has expanded its pay-what-you-want menu to all 48 restaurants in the area. Under the concept, customers pay any price they want for a bowl of turkey chili soup. Any additional proceeds above the suggested retail price go toward fighting hunger. After the corporate office “crunches the numbers,” Ryan said, the concept will be presented to franchisees.