WARREN, Ohio – Sam Covelli is confident that coffee drinkers will warm up to Caribou Coffee’s taste and says one of his goals is to get it into their hands faster than other coffee outlets.
Covelli, CEO of the Warren-based Covelli Enterprises, the Panera Bread chain’s largest franchisee, announced an agreement April 25 to open more than 100 Caribou Coffee locations with his three children, Candice, Albert and Danielle.
“I would like to be really special in the coffee business. I would like our company to take this to another level,” Covelli says.
Panera Bread and Caribou Coffee are part of the Panera Brands Group of Luxembourg-based JAB Holding Co.
In 2021, Caribou expanded its franchise program and recently announced franchise development agreements to open 300 locations in the United States.
Covelli Enterprises’ initial territory will include northern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and Florida, including Orlando and along the east coast of the state from West Palm Beach to Miami.
Since the brand’s 1992 launch, Caribou Coffee has been “a leader in the coffeehouse segment, known for innovative, handcrafted products and award-winning customer service,” says Matthew Walls, chief development officer at Caribou Coffee.
“Since its inception in 1992, Caribou Coffee has emerged as a leader in the coffeehouse segment, known for innovative, handcrafted products and award-winning customer service,” he says.
Under the brand’s previous ownership, Caribou operated a store in Boardman that closed in 2013.
Caribou wanted to secure some of the larger Panera operators to become Caribou operators, Covelli says. His company is Panera’s largest individual franchisee, operating some 300 bakery-cafes in eight states.
“So, it was a natural,” Covelli says.
“You know Covelli Enterprises if you are familiar with Panera Bread franchise success,” Walls says. “We are thrilled to be growing the Caribou Coffee brand alongside the Covelli team who helped grow the Panera Bread brand in markets that are important to Caribou guests.”
Before signing on with Caribou, Covelli and members of his family and company team visited Caribou’s headquarters and stores throughout Minnesota, where they conducted taste tests and spoke with customers.
“It’s special coffee,” made using premium, clean ingredients, Covelli says. “They didn’t try to take shortcuts. Everything was handcrafted.”
Danielle Covelli, marketing director for Covelli Enterprises, shares her father’s assessment of the brand and its products.
“You can just taste the difference with the types of ingredients that they use,” she says. “They only use clean, premium ingredients – no artificial additives, preservatives, anything like that.”
In addition to coffee, Caribou offers a limited menu that includes breakfast fare and desserts.
“It’s not to the level of food that you would get at Panera,” Sam Covelli says. “But it’s all fresh. They do a great job with the quality of their pastries and things that they have.”
There will be a specific focus on serving customers quickly. Patrons of coffee shop drive-thrus often are headed to work or otherwise in a hurry, he points out.
“We know we’re going to have the best coffee. But I want to make a promise that we’re going to have the fastest coffee, too,” Covelli says. Many of the locations he plans to open will offer only drive-thru service, and he also plans to increase reliance on technology to compensate for workforce shortages.
Covelli Enterprises will open its first Caribou Coffee location in the Glacier Hills Ohio Turnpike plaza on the eastbound lane of the turnpike just west of the Pennsylvania border. Its first freestanding store will open in 2024 on the north side of U.S. Route 224, just west of the Panera Bread café and on the opposite side of the road.
Beyond those two confirmed locations, Covelli says he is looking at other potential sites, with a focus on areas where Panera operates because they are “high-traffic areas.”
Covelli expects to have one “right away” in the Warren-Niles area – he operates a Panera on Elm Road in Warren and has a Panera, an O’Charley’s restaurant and a Dairy Queen at the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles.
Other area communities where Covelli Enterprises operates Paneras include Austintown, Boardman and Hermitage, Pa. Eventually, he would like to put a Caribou Coffee in the Mahoning Valley service plaza serving the Ohio Turnpike’s westbound lane opposite the Glacier Hills plaza.
“We’ll work our way, see where we’re at, kind of like we did Panera – methodical,” Covelli says.
Although he anticipates he’ll never be “totally retired,” he says his children – who already serve in various departments within Covelli Enterprises – will be taking on expanded operational duties.
Representatives of the companies see the Panera and Caribou concepts as compatible.
“Sam Covelli and his team are sophisticated operators with a passion for their teams and guests,” Caribou’s Walls says. “We are proud to build on our shared values and bring the Caribou Coffee brand to new markets together.”
Danielle Covelli agrees.
“What really sparked our interest is the fact that they have the same values as what we have at Panera,” she says. “The only thing we want to serve our guests are premium items that we like to eat and drink. So, they’re very compatible in that regard.”
The elder Covelli also doesn’t anticipate any lessening of his company’s involvement with Panera.
“We just opened a Panera in Mentor,” he says, “We’re going to continue to expand. We have stores under construction right now.”
Pictured at top: Sam Covelli and members of his family did Caribou taste tests before agreeing to add the franchise.