Technology-Forward Franchising: Donatos is Ahead of the Curve in Automation

In today's rapidly changing restaurant industry, it's essential to keep up with the latest technological advancements to succeed. Donatos Pizza, known for excellence and innovation in the pizza industry, is at the forefront of automation to deliver an innovative business opportunity to potential franchise partners. And recently, we gained valuable insights from Craig Turner, COO of Agape Automation and Executive Director of the Edge Innovation Hub, and Scott Stalnkaer, the Executive Director of IT Infrastructure at Donatos, to discuss how our brand is using technology to improve our operations, enhance customer experiences, and remain dedicated to delivering top-quality pizzas.

Pioneering Automation with Agape Automation and the Edge Innovation Hub

Craig Turner has been at the forefront of the Donatos automation journey. Both Agape Automation and the Edge Innovation Hub are companies under Jim Grote’s umbrella, and they work closely with Donatos to create innovative automation solutions that can make an impact on the restaurant industry's future.

Craig's journey began in 2017 when he joined forces with Tom Grote, the son of Donatos founder Jim Grote and now CEO of Agape Automation. While working together, Tom told Craig about his father's passion for building an innovation space to propel companies into the future. Craig has a background in innovation, design, and technology, which all seemed to fit with Jim’s vision. Craig recalls, "That all sounded like an exciting adventure, and we got started in 2018 on renovating one of the buildings on the campus with Donatos Pizza and Grote Company." They reopened this space in 2019 as the Edge Innovation Hub, with a wide-eyed approach to what this space could represent in helping the companies grow and innovate into the future.

Edge has since evolved into a creative ecosystem dedicated to pushing the boundaries of technology. Craig and the Edge Innovation Hub’s teams have worked with Donatos to develop the Sm^rt Saucer, which has helped Donatos revolutionize the pizza-making process.

The Grote Company, located adjacent to the Edge Building, has been a pioneer in food processing automation for over 50 years, creating equipment like the Peppamatic and many different topping and meat slicers that have had a global impact. Craig's teams at Agape Automation and Edge Innovation Hub are building on this legacy by focusing on automation solutions specifically tailored for Donatos' pizza kitchens.

Enhancing Consistency and Efficiency

Automation in Donatos' pizza kitchens isn't about replacing human workers but rather enhancing their abilities. "Our intention with the machines really is to make equipment that helps the associate do their job better,” Craig emphasizes. “We want to help them be more successful and have a better experience making pizzas in a pizza kitchen."

The Sm^rt Saucer and Peppamatic are just a few examples of machines designed to aid associates in creating a more consistent product faster. Devices like this streamline the pizza-making process, ensuring that every pizza adheres to Donatos' high-quality standards and that running the business is smoother for our franchise partners.

Additionally, Donatos is working on automation solutions for tabletops and pizza kitchens to improve efficiency further. The goal is to create an environment where associates can focus on providing exceptional customer service and personal interaction while automation handles repetitive tasks.

Agape Automation: Pioneering the Future of Automation

In 2022, Agape Automation officially launched as a standalone business dedicated to advancing automation technologies. The close proximity of Agape Automation, the Edge Innovation Hub, and Donatos fosters a unique environment for innovation and collaboration.

“We do tours here for potential franchise partners so they get an idea of the technology that Donatos is heading into,” Craig highlights. “We give them a chance to see the machines firsthand, and sometimes we even make pizzas with them!”

Donatos' commitment to excellence has always centered on delivering a consistent and exceptional customer experience. Our mission at Donatos has always been to promote goodwill through products, services, principles, and people, and focusing on automation only enhances this philosophy.

Adapting to the Changing Technological Landscape

Technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace, challenging Donatos to adapt quickly to meet the changing needs of our customers. Integration with third-party delivery services has become a crucial aspect of the business, allowing Donatos to reach a broader customer base. With 29 years of experience at Donatos, Scott Stalnkaer understands the importance of technology in meeting customer needs.

"The biggest thing for us is that our digital experiences give our customers the best experience and convenience in ordering all of our pizzas, subs, and salads,” Scott highlights. Whether customers choose to order through the website, mobile app, or third-party delivery services, Donatos ensures that the process is smooth and efficient.

However, this rapid evolution also presents challenges. Scott acknowledges the challenges posed by the rapid evolution of technology: "Technology is changing at a faster rate than ever before. We have to and have been changing our technology to meet those needs immediately." Integration with third-party delivery services has become a crucial aspect of the business, allowing Donatos to reach a broader customer base.

Looking to the Future of Automation and Technology

The future of Donatos lies in partnership and integration, as Scott points out, "The largest thing I see is instead of us building a lot of stuff internally, we're planning to partner with a lot of people and integrate with a platform that's already built out there." This approach allows Donatos to maintain flexibility while benefiting from the expertise of technology specialists.

While technology is vital to the Donatos experience, the foundation remains the same: delivering exceptional pizzas. Technology enhances the process, making it easier for customers to enjoy Donatos' high-quality products.

Are you interested in a franchise opportunity with a brand that is ahead of the curve in technology? Contact us today to learn more about opening a Donatos in your area.

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