May 21, 2020, 2:32pm EST | By Dan Eaton | Original Article


Restaurant sales have been decimated by Covid-19, but pizza has proven to be a sturdy and reliable part of the segment.

Several chains have reported steady, if not growing sales, and stepped up hiring accordingly.

Columbus-based Donatos Pizza has even opened two new pizzerias in recent weeks. Viking Group Inc., a 25-year franchisee for the brand, opened a new Dayton unit on April 28, while Space Cowboys Restaurant Group LLC opened its second franchise in Kentucky this week.

A third new Donatos will open next month in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, notable in that it’s a return to Florida for the brand which had restaurants in the Sunshine State years ago when it was part of McDonald’s Corp.

“We have more requests from Florida than from any other state,” spokesman Dave Parsons said.

Franchisee Justin Sherman is a Columbus native. He and his wife are both Ohio State University graduates. Two other franchise groups in Florida are scheduled to open in third quarter as well.

The new Dayton unit is actually a return. It was the site of that franchisee’s first-ever stand alone Donatos, but that pizzeria was destroyed in the 2019 Memorial Day tornado.

The company has more than 160 restaurants in 10 states.

Parsons declined to share a sales figure, but said the company is doing well and seeing many of the same trends other pizza places are.

“When this first started, our sales actually went down the first few weeks,” he said. “I think consumers stocked up on groceries first. But once we got through that adjustment, sales returned.”

While many restaurants were forced to pivot to carryout and delivery sales, that’s been the core competency of most pizza places.

“We’re familiar. We’re reliable,” he said. “You’re used to getting your pizza hot and fresh.”

Parsons said Donatos is a seeing a mix of performance. Some units are up, but some still struggle. The OSU pizzeria, for example, is typically one of the best performers in the chain, but with no students, its sales are off.

Donatos, like other restaurants in Ohio, began to open its dining rooms Thursday as the state ban on dine-in business lifted. Not having that business wasn’t a huge hindrance to the company though, as Parsons said only about 10% of sales are dine-in.

“We’re doing everything possible to ensure our employees are safe and customers are safe,” he said. “We’ve told our employees to be patient. Our customers are tentative and nervous as well. We’re all learning together.”