Mal Coven, the son of Jewish immigrants from the Russian empire, grew up in Mattapan, a working-class neighborhood of Boston. His education in business began with his father, a custom peddler who walked door to door and floor to floor, selling merchandise and extending credit to fellow immigrants in Boston. He is a graduate of the renowned Boston Latin School and Boston College. Coven went from stock boy to boys' buyer at Filene's, "The World's Largest Specialty Store," in Boston. In 1961, he got really lucky when his brother-in-law Abe Fish in Toronto invited him to become a partner in two stores that were to lead to the successful Biway discount chain. He lives in Toronto.