Donatos Pizza reopens original Thurman Avenue location as part of 60th birthday celebration

From 10 WBNS: Three generations of the Grote family returned to the original building on Thurman Avenue for its grand reopening with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in attendance.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Donatos Pizza is celebrating a milestone Wednesday as the Columbus-based pizza chain turns 60 years old.

Donatos got its start on May 31, 1963, in German Village. Founder Jim Grote was a sophomore at The Ohio State University when he bought his first location on Thurman Avenue.

Fast forward to today, there are more than 450 locations in 27 states.

To help celebrate the milestone, three generations of the Grote family returned to the original building for its grand reopening with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in attendance.

“It’s gone by really fast. When you look back at it, so many parts of it were chapters and we started here with just the neighborhood kids,” Jim said.

Jim’s daughter Jane Grote Abell is now chief purpose officer for Donatos and executive chairwoman of the board.

She said the best part of her family business goes far beyond having their own children join the company.

“It's truly those principles that were founded on that are going to continue to carry on — and that's not just our family — it's our family of families in the business. We have so many people that have met their spouse here that have had kids here that continue to expand the family of Donatos, not just our [immediate] family. I think watching the third generation join the business. For me, it's been such a great sense of pride,” Jane said.

The principles Jane referred to are the power of love. That’s what she said helped guide Donatos through six decades of success.  

“We’re saying choose love, lead with love, follow the golden rule and do the right thing. We evolved into a business of agape, which is Greek for love, the highest form of love. It’s a big challenge. Unconditional love,” Jim said.

The power of love also caused the birth of Agape Capitalism, a nonprofit Jim said he hopes will inspire other business leaders to follow the golden rule: treat others how you want to be trusted.

The power of love also helps Donatos continue to stay innovative and ahead in the industry. He calls it Agape Automation, the future of pizza making.

Jim used his concept of love to build a smarter pizza kitchen, using automated machines that can cut the time of making and topping your pizza from minutes down to mere seconds.

One of the machines, Smart Pepp, applies pepperonis to the edge of the pizza — the Donatos way. A hundred pieces in 25 seconds.

There’s also the automatic cutter and the toppings ring to prevent food waste and the smart saucer.

Jim had the vision when he invented the Pep-a-matic machine for the company’s frozen pizza line.

Donatos says its goals are to make a consistent pizza with automation doing some of the more repetitive tasks so frontline workers can spend more quality time with customers and to attract a new generation.

“A lot of people say you’re getting out of you being automated. And what about the people because the energy that people is critical to your food and how it tastes as those machines are just machines and the people if they care about what they’re doing that same kind of care that energy somehow makes the pizza taste better” Jim said.

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