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Businessman amassed Panera franchises

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Albert Covelli, founder of Panera Bread

Anyone who has eaten in a Pittsburgh-area McDonald's or Panera Bread in the past half-century most likely has been in a restaurant owned by Ohio businessman Albert Covelli.

Mr. Covelli — known by his employees as a devoted family man, decorated veteran, business icon, civic leader and community philanthropist — died on Saturday, May 3, 2014, in his winter home in Florida. He was 94.

He was the founder of Covelli Enterprises, based in Warren, Ohio, which bills itself as the nation's largest franchisee of Panera Bread and the fourth-largest restaurant franchisee in the county.

“Mr. Covelli was know for his dedication, his kindness and his compassion for people ...,” the company said in a prepared statement. “He was a role model, a man of vision, integrity, honesty, ethics and commitment.”

His philosophy for a successful life, according to the company, “was to stay grateful, humble and focused on family.”

Covelli Enterprises was the nation's largest franchisee of McDonald's restaurants until Mr. Covelli and his son, Sam, sold their interest in the fast-food franchises in 1997 and began franchising Panera Bread, the company states.

In addition to the bakery-cafes, the company owns several Dairy Queens and five O'Charley's restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Covelli, a native of Kenosha, Wis., and a World War II veteran, began his business career by operating an open-air market in his hometown.

He and his wife, Jo, and their children, Annette and Sam, moved to Warren in 1959 when they opened his first McDonald's. The company said he and his son spent the next 40 years opening 50 McDonald's in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Covelli Enterprises, which opened its newest Panera last month on Washington Pike in Collier, now has 250 locations in five states and Canada with a workforce of 25,000.

The company has donated more than $500,000 to the Marines Toys for Tots program in the past 25 years.

When Mr. Covelli was named to the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame 18 months ago, the University of Central Florida issued a statement saying that The Albert Covelli Foundation has donated close to $1.3 million to hundreds of charities and nonprofit organizations since 1993.

A scholarship fund in his name awards $5,000 to 10 students each year at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or mhasch@tribweb.com.

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