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