Donatos Pizza to Open in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Donatos Pizza is headed to Knoxville. The fast-casual pizza chain once owned by McDonald’s and famous for its Edge-to-Edge toppings, has signed an agreement for the development of three area restaurants.

All three restaurants will be owned and operated by Smoky Mountain Pizza, LLC, whose principals, no strangers to franchising and the local retail scene, currently own and operate three health, wellness and nutrition shops in the area. No leases have been signed yet for the new Donatos restaurants, but the entire metro area is being targeted for potential location sites.

“This surge in franchise development reflects our aggressive growth strategy and is fueled by the ongoing success Donatos has experienced over the past several years. This success, coupled with a relevant design that emphasizes premium pizza delivered, continues to attract franchise operators interested in joining the growing brand,” said Donatos Vice President of Development & Franchising Jeff Baldwin. “We are fully confident that local pizza enthusiasts, as well as anyone else looking for a consistently delicious product every time, will be thrilled to welcome us to the community.”

Donatos was founded in 1963 when Ohio State sophomore Jim Grote bought a small pizza shop in Columbus, Ohio from a young seminarian for $1,300. The company was classified “Best in Class” and acquired by McDonald’s Corporation in 1999, at a time when the fast-food giant was extending its reach beyond burgers. A few years later when McDonald’s started divesting itself of its ancillary restaurant brands, Grote and his daughter, Jane Abell, bought back the company in 2003.

Donatos’ famous golden crispy thin crust pizzas—made with aged smoked provolone cheese (not mozzarella) and Edge to Edge toppings—have made the family-owned company a favorite in the Midwest and beyond. Pizzas come in four sizes—7”, 10”, 12”, and 14”—and a variety of combinations. Customers can order the pizza that put Donatos on the map—a large thin crust pepperoni pizza with 100 pieces of pepperoni on it—or one of more than 10 signature pizzas on the menu that include the Founder’s Favorite (pepperoni, family-recipe sausage, ham and banana peppers) and the Chicken Spinach Mozzarella (sliced chicken breast, fresh baby spinach, fresh Mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, olive oil and Romano Parmesan blend).

Donatos also offers 26 premium toppings for customizable pizzas.

Other menu items include cauliflower crust and gluten-free pizzas, as well as fresh salads, oven-baked subs, and boneless or traditional baked chicken wings that are available naked, sauced or dry-rubbed.

Donatos offers dine in, pick up, delivery, and catering services.

“The pandemic has reaffirmed our focus on delivering a premium product. When you think about it, pizza is all about bringing people together. During these days of social distancing, we have still been able to do that through pick up and no contact delivery,” said Baldwin. “The Donatos Promise is to serve the best pizza and make your day a little better, and that is more important to us now than ever.”

The expansion into Knoxville is part of a larger growth strategy in the region for Donatos. The company already has two restaurants in the Nashville area and has set its sights on additional expansion in Memphis and Chattanooga.

Nationally, Donatos has 162 restaurants across 10 states and its products are proudly served in more than 15 sports and entertainment venues.

For more information about Donatos’ franchise opportunity, visit

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