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The Foodies

Alumni Who Grow, Cook, Serve and Think About Food

The U.S. food and beverage industry is growing at a steady pace even as the population growth rate has slowed, according to industry analysts. Consumers have more money to spend on food and are more concerned than ever about health. There are a growing number of food companies and products on the market in response to these trends—and our alumni are in the thick of it. Meet some of them below.
Mike Covino talking enthusiastically in one of his restaurant kitchens
FAVORITE FOOD? “I find myself always sampling the fresh guacamole at our Mezcal location. I love the creamy texture from perfectly ripened avocados smashed with fresh lime, cilantro, onion, tomato, salt and some fresh jalapeño."


The Restaurateur

His roots are in the food business, says Mike Covino ’93,’95: “My father was a beer distributor at Logan Airport, my mother was a bartender and my grandfather was a chef.” But Covino’s master’s degree was in physical therapy, and so was his first job after school. For several years after earning his degree, he “dual-careered” between his PT day job and his night work in restaurants and bars. In 2005, the contest was settled. With his opening of Block Five, an upscale burger restaurant on Green Street in Worcester, just as that neighborhood was enjoying a rebirth, Covino announced his arrival in the city. He opened a second restaurant in the city a year later, the tapas bar Bocado.

Today there are 10—eight in Worcester, one each in Leominster and Wellesley—and they range across the food-and-drink spectrum: pizza, burgers, seafood, steaks, tapas, Mexican, health food. There is a wine bar and a sports bar; there is pricey and down-home. They are all part of the Niche Hospitality Group

Covino has had several partners over the years, as well as a staff of employees that grows with every new opening. But none among them has been more critical than his wife, Deb Covino ’95, who also put aside a UML degree in physical therapy to focus on the restaurant trade. In addition to her role in raising the couple’s three children, she oversees private events for all 10 restaurants and is “a major key to our success,” Mike says.

The Covinos, meanwhile, have been key to the transformation of downtown Worcester. “Mike and the Niche group illustrated a vision for a Worcester market that hadn’t quite existed yet,” Tim McGourthy, then Worcester’s chief development officer, told the Worcester Business Journal two years ago.

“We’ve been part of some pretty cool changes,” Covino says. “That’s all. We were never trying to change the world.”—GD

Meet More Foodies

  • Mark Proden

    The Vintner

    Mark Proden opened the Portland Wine Bar and Winery in southwest Portland, Ore., which features his labels and those of other small makers.

  • Ben Williams

    The Renaissance Man

    Ben Williams isn’t only a chef at his food stand, Marko's Mediterranean Grill: He completed his undergraduate degree in political science at UML and earned a law degree at New England School of Law.

  • Christopher Horne

    The Family Farmer

    Christopher Horne's farm, Horne Family Farms, provides microgreens to several local restaurants.

  • Eric Preusse

    The Wine Engineer

    Tending to the grapevines strung across his 40-acre Broken Creek Vineyard and Winery in Shrewsbury, Mass., Eric Preusse couldn’t be further removed from his first job out of the Francis College of Engineering, working on missile guidance systems at Raytheon.

  • George Zografos

    The Franchisee

    George Zografos recently sold off the last of the 13 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises he spent 30 years collecting on Cape Cod.

  • Kathleen Curtin

    The Food Historian

    History grad Kathleen Curtin may just know more about the first Thanksgiving than anyone. A former food historian at Plimoth Plantation, she is co-author of “Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.”

  • Taniya Nayak

    The Designer

    Taniya Nayak, an A-list interior designer known for her work with Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Ray, HGTV and Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible" has helped develop eight eateries in the Boston area over the past decade.

  • Sandy Green

    The Gap-Filler

    In 2010, Sandy Green filled a gap in dining options with The Phoenix restaurant in Bend, Ore. Designed as a “restaurant for everyone,” it targets its menu and its layout across the demographic spectrum.

  • Cheryl Henry

    The Business Woman of Food

    Cheryl Henry is president and COO of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, a fine-dining company with more than 150 Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurants worldwide.

  • Lydia Sisson

    The Urban Farmer

    Lydia Sisson founded Mill City Grows, which has developed six community gardens, 14 school gardens and three urban farms—including a new greenhouse and garden space behind the residence halls on East Campus.

  • Jennifer Heng

    The Ice Queen

    Business alumna Jennifer Heng opened Snowdaes on Westford Street in Lowell after falling in love with shaved snow in Southern California.

  • Renée Elliott

    The Organic Grocer

    Renée Elliott founded Planet Organic in 1995, a successful healthfood grocer based in London that has since grown to a seven-store chain.

  • Mark Parlee

    The Fruit Laborer

    Mark Parlee started with two acres of pick-your-own strawberries in 1988 and now manages 93 acres of apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, sweet corn and pumpkins at Parlee Farms.

  • Rob Parsons

    The Chicken King

    Rob Parsons knows New Englanders prefer local food joints to big restaurant chains. But Parsons, who has built a successful career in real estate development, says Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is different.

  • Louis Beaudette

    The Mix Master

    In 1989, Louis Beaudette founded Admix. Today, it is the largest supplier of mixing equipment for canned and packaged, prepared foods.

  • Al Contarino

    The Pizza Guy

    Al Contarino, who earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from the Francis College of Engineering, is the president and co-founder of KettlePizza, an innovative line of products that turns charcoal and gas grills into backyard pizza ovens.