WARREN - A record-setting opening day of sales at the first Panera Bakery-Cafe outside the U.S. didn't eliminate the pain Sam Covelli felt after rotator cuff surgery on his left arm, but it helped.
"I'm left-handed. It was tough traveling and getting around the store (but) it was an unbelievable day," the owner/operator of Warren based Covelli Enterprises said after the first Panera opened May 10 in the Toronto, Canada, suburb of Oakville.
The company didn't release the sales figure, but Covelli said it far exceeded the previous record.
The secret: "Great marketing and treating people the right way. It's no secret.''
Many Canadians already have eaten at Paneras in Florida and other states and know the food, Covelli said.
"Canadians love our food. We think we have a very attractive restaurant, with a new look and new colors that we'll put" in the U.S., he said.
Covelli credited his Mahoning Valley roots for his international success.
"I can't thank this community enough. Because of their loyalty, we were able to go international," he said.
Besides the food, customers were treated to appearances by hockey Hall of Famers Paul Coffey and Doug Gilmour.
Covelli was selected in 2011 by Corporate Panera Bread to develop the brand internationally with the first ever Canadian cafe locations, including several others planned this year. The expansion is expected to add several bookkeeping and accounting jobs to the Warren headquarters.
Covelli's Canada territory gives him room to expand, he said.
"There are millions of people," he said. "We'll come outside Toronto and keep going all the way to Niagara Falls."
Besides its sale record, the Oakville Panera Bread will continue the tradition of giving back to the community, the company said.
The cafe already has presented donations to two organizations, Community Cares Halton and Kerr Street Ministries, in support of the local police and fire departments.
The store will also support the Make-A-Wish Foundation through its Community Breadbox cash collection boxes at the register.
Covelli Enterprises has more than 200 Panera Bread bakery-cafes, including six Mahoning Valley locations.