For students at the Meeting Street Early Learning Center in Providence, Rhode Island, a trip to the local Dunkin’ Donuts is about more than just coffee and treats. While many Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees are generous and share their resources with charitable organizations, there is a unique part of this particular relationship between the school and the DD store.
“I have been taking my community traveling students to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Eddy St. in Providence since Meet- ing Street opened at this location about 10 years ago,” says Brendan Foley, who teaches students with visual impairments. “Our trips are designed to teach my students how to travel within their community as safely and as independently as possible. These community trips are very motivating for my students because they interact directly with the public and get a treat when they return to school.”
The Eddy Street location is one of four Dunkin’ Donuts stores owned by The S&D Companies, which was founded in October 2009 by Steve Gabellieri and his business partner Greg Tetrault Jr. It’s at this store that Meeting Street teachers are able to take their students beyond the classroom and into the real world.
“Our Dunkin’ Donuts location is used as a living classroom where students are taught things like how to read a menu, how to place an order in a restaurant, understand the value of money, count change, communicate and interact with people you may not know, and about behavior in public places,” Gabellieri says.
The students use an augmentative communication device, such as an iPad, to communicate with the staff. “This is an uncommon experience for most people, and the employees at Dunkin’ Donuts continuously take this opportunity to treat my students with respect, patience and genuine kindness,” says Foley. “Some of the employees make it a point to greet my students by name when they come in, or to ask the name of new students. For all the effort that it takes for my students to get their donut and return to school, the staff at Dunkin’ Donuts do a great job of making every trip successful.”
But the Providence Dunkin’ goes even further to support Meeting Street School. During the year, Meeting Street holds a number of fundraising events, including a telethon in January, staff appreciation day, pajama day celebration and walk through the community.
“Steve’s store provides all the goodies, including coffee, hot chocolate and donuts for hundreds of people,” says Ashley M. DeSimone, the manager of Special Events. “Over the course of the year, they also send refreshments for smaller events, such as meetings. Steve’s whole team is just so reliable, willing to help out and incredibly supportive.”
The Gabellieri family has a long history in the City of Providence. Ralph Gabellieri, Steve’s dad, was one of the pioneers who helped Dunkin’ Donuts founder Bill Rosenberg build the company back in 1956. He led the effort to bring the successful Mister Donut chain under the Dunkin’ flag. Steve learned from his dad how to run a local business. “Take care of your guests and take care of your people,” he says. “This fosters a culture of respect and caring toward one another and gets the organization thinking more broadly about what they can do to help others less fortunate.”
Gabellieri says that he is inspired to support the Meeting Street School because of what they do for the community and because they are his restaurant’s community. “There are 400 students and 200 fac- ulty that are our neighbors. We sincerely appreciate what they do for us every day as guests in our Eddy St. Dunkin’ Donuts,” he says. “We truly feel that they started the relationship first by being our valued customers and now we have the privilege of giving something back.”
Steve didn’t start out as a franchisee. His first Dunkin’ job was behind the counter—gaining experience he would file away for later. Like his father, he chose work with the Brand, climbing the ladder as a District Sales Manager (DSM) in Providence to a VP of Operations along the eastern seaboard.
But, where Ralph Gabellieri never owned a Dunkin’ franchise, Steve wanted to work that side of the business. He purchased the four shops in the City of Providence, which employ about 80 people and are active in the community.
“The essence of what our Eddy St. [location] does for the school is to offset their costs and assist with raising funds by being their food and beverage provider of choice,” Gabellieri says. “Essentially we donate these items to them free of charge so that they can reduce their costs and raise money to help support the students at their very special school.”
At the end of the day, Gabellieri says his collaboration with Meeting Street has a direct benefit on his employees. \“They know the students and know why they are there,” he says. “Our crew members are compassionate, understanding, patient, and helpful. It is a great partnership where everyone learns and benefits. We feel honored to be part of the process.”