Covelli Introduces Delivery at Valley Panera Cafes

WARREN, Ohio – Colleen Rose, general manager of the Panera Bread bakery-café on Elm Road, admits response to the fast-casual chain’s new small-order delivery option was greater than she expected.

The Elm Road store was the first in the Mahoning Valley to offer the service, which enables customers to place a single order online or on their phone for delivery so long as they are within an 8-minute radius of a Panera restaurant.

Orders are placed online using a credit card via the Panera Bread app or at the Panera website. The minimum order is $5, with a $3 charge for delivery.

“Response has been overwhelming,” said Rose, who has been with the store 16 years. The first order of the day goes out at 11 a.m. and the last goes out at 7:30 p.m.

As of this week, the service now is available in all of Warren-based Covelli Enterprises’ Panera Bread stores in the Mahoning Valley and Hermitage, Pa.

Covelli Enterprises, which is Panera’s largest franchisee, initially tested the service in June in Dayton, one of Panera’s early test markets.

“We did everything right and we’re going to do the same thing here,” said Sam Covelli, owner and CEO of Covelli Enterprises. “We’re making sure that we have great delivery drivers and get it there on time, and have the same quality food and make sure everything’s perfect.”

The service launched locally earlier this month beginning with Elm Road and adding Hermitage yesterday. Covelli Enterprises also operates Panera cafes in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Niles.

“It’s been incredible,” Covelli said.

Each store has had added up to 16 delivery team members as well as six to eight food prep workers to accommodate the increase in business, reported Ashlee Mauti, director of marketing. Drivers are paid an hourly rate and mileage, plus whatever they receive in tips.

“We have been continually hiring to make sure the café is properly staffed. We need to make sure we can make the food quickly and still serve and give great service to our in-café guests,” she said. “We are always hiring.”

Prior to launch, marketing personnel visied area businesses in the stores’ coverage area, similar to how the company promotes an upcoming store opening. “We call that buzzing,” Covelli said.

“They hit the streets and they drop off goodies with a coupon,” Mauti said. “Most of the people in the Valley have been getting 50% off to download the app and try it.”

“Then we market it with our marketing people,” Covelli said. “It’s a lot of work but we think it works.”

The service already is benefiting from word of mouth promotion, Mauti said.

“We haven’t even started advertising it here yet. We’re excited about that,” Covelli said.

Business has increased incrementally at stores, which could change as it picks up, Mauti said. “We are adding up to 50 orders a day in business,” she said.

“You want to make it so these drivers are busy. You don’t want them sitting around the store, and they don’t want to sit around the store because they’re not making money,” Covelli said.

Drivers based at Elm Road are “constantly busy,” Rose said. “If they’re not out on delivery they’re in the store helping us,” she added.

“The main thing” is getting it right, including having the right drivers, Covelli said. “We don’t just go out and hire the first couple of drivers to come in the door,” he remarked. “We want personality, neatness, things like that. It’s basic things that enhance Panera’s image.”

Customers are encouraged to connect their MyPanera card to the app, which allows them to save their favorites for future orders. “If we have your email address we’re going to start blasting you with coupons,” Mauti said.

So far all the local stores are reporting strong numbers for delivery, Covelli said. “There’s a couple I thought might be bigger because they’re in more populated areas but the other ones are right with them,” he remarked.

Elm Road’s sales are up at least 10%, Rose estimated. “And each day I feel like we’re getting more and more deliveries,” she added.

One initial concern was the potential impact of the delivery service on catering, which is “still a big thing for us,” Covelli acknowledged.

“But it hasn’t touched it. It’s enhanced it,” he said.

Covelli now is rolling out delivery in his Columbus stores, about half of which offer it so far, and will move into Cincinnati and Cleveland next. South Carolina will follow, he said

The service is particularly popular in university areas, such as around the University of Dayton and Ohio State University. “They’re using it like crazy,” Covelli said.

Columbus’ West Lane Avenue store does “an insane amount of orders,” Mauti affirmed. She also expects the service to be popular in accounting offices, for example, as tax season approaches.

Adapting to customer wants and needs is critical, “especially in this day and age where everything is on demand,” Mauti said.

“You’ve got to change with the times. You’ve got to stay on top of your game,” Covelli said. “That’s what happens to a lot of people in our business. They fall behind and they can’t keep up.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.