CoGo's acquired by Coen Markets, which plans 40-plus store upgrades, new hot food options

Natasha Lindstrom

Western Pennsylvania convenience store chain CoGo’s and its 38 remaining locations have been sold to Coen Markets, another longtime family-owned company that plans to make improvements at stores across the Pittsburgh region.

With the purchase, Coen Markets more than doubled its number of convenience store and gas station locations, from 28 to 66, and picked up dozens of stores in the city of Pittsburgh and its suburbs.

For consumers, the acquisition will mean visible upgrades and expanded food options at CoGo’s stores across greater Pittsburgh as well as Coen Markets’ Ruff Creek Market locations across Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties, eastern Ohio and West Virginia, Coen Markets CEO Charlie McIlvaine said.

“You have two born-here, raised-here chains coming under one umbrella, which should materially help us in our ability to unify our image and our offers to our guests,” McIlvaine said. “Our mission statement is ‘impress and satisfy guests with every visit, and make their lives simpler.’ Our added scale and capabilities, that enables us to execute on that mission statement and that means better-looking and upgraded locations.”

The transaction was finali zed on Thursday. The private companies did not disclose the acquisition price.

‘End of an era’ for CoGo’s

“We’re excited but it’s the end of an era,” said CoGo’s outgoing CEO John Eby III, who took the company’s reins three years ago amid economic challenges in the dairy industry and his father-in-law’s deteriorating health.

CoGo’s roots date to the Colteryahn Dairy family-run farm in Carrick, formed in 1917. As the dairy farm expanded milk delivery to retail outlets, Carl Colteryahn Jr. recognized that demand was climbing for fresh milk and juice available via neighborhood retail stores. He founded the first location, then-named Stop-N-Go, in Bethel Park in 1962. The name was changed to CoGo’s in 1986.

“It’s sad on one side, because it’s the family business and I came in to help out and that chapter is closing, but on the bright side, the compelling reason for moving forward was just the opportunity of bringing these two family businesses together,” Eby said. “Our headquarters were literally a couple miles apart, and the footprint of our store locations is centered on Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.”

CoGo’s Upper St. Clair corporate office is a short drive from the headquarters of Coen Markets in Canonsburg, and the two companies have worked together in the past.

Though CoGo’s as an entity will be no more and Coen Markets will own all its assets and franchise program, the transaction mimics a merger in that all store workers will retain their jobs as will corporate executives, with Coen Markets’ payroll growing to about 750 total employees. Eby noted some CoGo’s employees have been working at the same location for decades.

“Those people are staying on in the same positions,” Eby said. “Their uniform colors might change over time and their stores will be freshened up and upgraded.”

Eby will serve as Coen Markets’ vice president of real estate development and projects.

“I’ll get to actually drive the effort of the capital investment to put money back into our stores,” Eby said. “Our chain stores are on the older side and need I would say a pretty significant investment to get really competitive in the marketplace.”

Eby said he wasn’t seeking a buyer but was intrigued when Coen Markets approached him about the deal in February.

“We didn’t have the capital capacity that we needed to grow,” said Eby, and Coen’s had an influx in money following the 2017 sale of its Coen Energy and Coen Transport businesses. “We’re both longtime, really now third-generation families in a neighboring marketplace that combined provided the opportunity of a much broader customer base, and it was just the right time.”

Adding food, keeping the pepperoni roll

Stores will expand their food options and offer freshly prepared deli sandwiches, homemade sides and hot meals. Among signature items that will be added to all menus are Coen Markets’ never-frozen, hand-breaded crispy chicken, hand-cut fries made from Idaho potatoes and freshly ground bean-to-cup coffee.

Coen Markets also hopes to continue offering the pepperoni rolls that have been a popular item at CoGo’s for years. CoGo’s has sold close to half a milli on freshly made and baked-in- store pepperoni rolls a year, Eby said.

“That’s something we would like to continue,” McIlvaine said.

The stores will retain their separate signage for the short term but may unify under a single name at some point.

Coen Markets, whose parent company Coen Oil was founded in 1923, had been operating 27 Ruff Creek Market stores in a tri-state area prior to the deal, including locations in Washington, Greensburg, Waynesburg, Canonsburg and Johnstown. CoGo’s primarily is in Pittsburgh and its suburbs.