Covelli speaks at YSU's Fall commencement, receives honorary degree

Sam Covelli, whose company is the world’s single largest franchisee of Panera Bread restaurants and employs more than 35,000 people, receives an honorary degree and will speak at Youngstown State University’s Fall Commencement 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, in Beeghly Center on campus.

Olivia Johnson, who receives a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, will be the student speaker.

During her studies at YSU, Johnson has traveled to several countries, including South Africa, the Bahamas, Guatemala and Belize. She was the recipient of the John and Anna Stephens Scholarship, the Kristen A. Beckman Memorial Scholarship, and the Dr. John R. White Scholarship. She was the president of the Anthropology Colloquium for the 2015-16 academic year. Johnson hopes to advance to graduate school to earn a PhD in Archaeology.

Covelli is owner/operator of Covelli Enterprises, headquartered in Covelli’s hometown of Warren, Ohio. The company operates more than 260 Panera bread bakery-cafés in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida and Ontario, Canada. He also operates five O’Charley’s Restaurants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida and nine Dairy Queen stores in Northeast Ohio.

The company has a long history of giving back to the community. In December, Covelli celebrated more than 30 years as the largest local contributor to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, with a $15,000 donation. This past August, the company hosted the area’s largest fundraising event, the 7th annual Panerathon, which has hosted more than 50,000 people and raised over $1.6 million for the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center over the past seven years.

Covelli Enterprises also supports the Salvation Army, the Disabled American Veterans, the Animal Welfare League, the American Heart Association, Akron Children’s Hospital of the Mahoning Valley and Second Harvest Food Bank. For his commitment to the community, Covelli was recognized in 2012 with the Salvation Army’s Distinguished Community Service Award, the American Red Cross Spirit of the Mahoning Valley Award and was named 2013 Corporate Philanthropist of the Year in the Mahoning Valley. In 2014, Covelli received the Salvation Army Project Bundle up Award and the 2014 Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Cleveland Corporate Leadership Award.

In 2016, the company donated more than $27 million in unsold bread product to local food banks and hunger relief agencies. In addition, in 2012, Covelli donated $10 million to the Ohio State Athletics Department – the largest in the department’s history – to assist in funding the construction of a multi-sport arena.

Covelli has earned numerous awards, including including Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Northeast Ohio, YSU Alumni Association Distinguished Citizen of the Year and Youngstown Area Restaurateur of the Year. He was most recently inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society and received the Medallion Award for Entrepreneurship at YSU. He was the founder of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania, and was a founding sponsor of the Giant Eagle LPGA Tournament Classic.

He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Cleveland Clinic; The Ohio State Athletics Campaign Committee; Velosano Steering Committee; Mercy Health Foundation of the Mahoning Valley Board; W.D. Packard Music Hall Board of Trustees; Better Business Bureau Board of Directors; Warren Economic Development Foundation Board; Diocese of Youngstown Blue Ribbon Executive Committee; Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority; Ohio Association of Commodores; as well as the Urology Care Foundation of the American Urological Association.

Sam and his wife, Caryn, live in Warren, Oh., and have three children: Candace, Albert and Danielle.