Sam Covelli remembers his father — business founder Albert Covelli — as a gentle, generous man

Sam Covelli said that when it came to life or business, his father lived by the standard, “Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do.”

“That became and still is our company philosophy. My dad taught me to appreciate people and respect them. Show them that you are just as willing to get in there and work as hard as they are, ” he said.

His father, Albert Covelli, died May 3 at his home in Florida. He was 94.

Sam Covelli said saying good-bye to his father and best friend has been “bittersweet.”

“I’ve learned a lot about my father this week. We were always close. He was my best friend and the best man at my wedding. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t or didn’t talk about.

”But this week, I’ve learned so much more about my father, things he did I never knew about. Things he did for people they are now sharing with me. It’s hard, but it’s also comforting at the same time,” he said.

Albert Covelli founded Warren-based Covelli Enterprises. Until his death, three generations of his family worked for the business – his son and his grandchildren.

Sam Covelli started his career when he was in high school, learning every aspect of the business from his father “from the ground up.” His father’s work ethic prepared the younger Covelli to take over the reins of the family’s business. As he grew older, the elder Covelli entrusted more of the business to his son, but he never walked away completely.

“He never stopped working. He was always involved in the business. He loved it. It was part of him,” Sam Covelli said.

The Covelli name has been well-known in Warren since Albert Covelli chose a location on West Market Street for his first McDonald’s franchise in 1959. It also was the first McDonald’s in Warren.

In the nearly 40 years that followed, Covelli Enterprises became the largest franchise of McDonald’s restaurants, opening 50 in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The father and son sold their interest in McDonald’s and began franchising Panera Bread restaurants in 1997 and have become the largest franchise of that brand, with more than 250 locations in five states and Canada. The enterprise now has a work force of more than 25,000 – 2,000 of them locally.

“One thing my father loved was seeing his employees doing well in the company. He used to ask me, ‘Doesn’t it feel great to see the employees advancing in the company, being promoted, providing for their families?’ He created such a high standard for our company. People tell me my father taught them discipline, but he always treated them with dignity and respect. That was who he was,” Sam Covelli said.

Albert Covelli, born in Kenosha, Wis., returned home after serving in World War II as a lieutenant medical administrative officer in hospitals overseas to open an open air market that expanded to three locations.

His success led him to become the founder of a wholesale produce company, where he added a frozen food and dairy distributorship before moving to Warren with his wife, Josephine, daughter, Annette, and son, Sam.

“My father valued people. He valued his family and his employees. He treated everyone well,” Sam Covelli said. ”He worked hard and worked long hours, but he always found time for the family, my mother, myself and my sister. He was always there and part of our lives.”

Albert Covelli was a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, where his services were held on Saturday. He has been lauded by area residents as a man quick to help his church and community.

“He was a kind man. People will tell you he was always a gentleman. He impacted many lives. My father loved people. He thought of his employees as part of his family. And he loved his customers, his family and his friends. And they loved him. It makes me so proud he’s my dad,” he said.