Family-owned Donatos franchise business passes the ownership to the next generation

This article was originally published in Nation's Restaurant News on March 14th, 2024

Roseler Corp. has been an Ohio Donatos franchisee for 30 years, and the business is now going to be run by the third generation of the family. 

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Charlene Rose and Bill Stetler, and their son Chris, and granddaughter Caitlin Rose, of Roseler Corp., which has been a Donatos franchisee in the Ohio market for 30 years. Now, the family-owned business is in the process of passing the reins to the next generation, as Charlene and Bill have retired and their granddaughter Caitlin will be taking on much of the operations moving forward.

We spoke with this family of franchisees about being one of Donatos Pizza’s first franchisees, what it has been like to run a business together for three decades, and what the future will look like with the next generation.

Store count: Currently four stores in the Ohio region in Marion, Mansfield, Mt. Vernon, and Wooster

Getting started in franchising

Charlene: Years ago, I went to work for [Donatos founder] Jim Grote at the corporate headquarters. While I was working there, Jim decided he was going to franchise. and he wanted likeminded people to work with him. We got the opportunity to be one of the first. We were the second franchisees to open the week after the first franchise partner opened. It’s been a wonderful trip for us.  

Bill: I was a professional firefighter…. When Charlene and I got married, we were impressed with the company she was working for. Jim Grote was a good boss, so I offered up the suggestion that if they ever franchise, we should look into it. And we were able to do that when he did bring that subject up. We were offered the second franchise and a building that he owned in Marion, Ohio…. We opened a few weeks after the original store opened. The opening went well and we started working on the second store which ended up being in Mansfield, Ohio, and we hired a contractor to do that one. From there, we built the third store in 1994 that didn’t succeed. In 1997, when I retired, we had a family friend convince us to build another store… We hired a manager for our Wooster store who ended up being our supervisor and is still with us — and he's a great guy — Mark Peoples…. In 2010, I had a heart attack and basically moved out of any of the responsibilities for the company at that point… The company has been doing well. We were able to buy Mt. Vernon that required us to do another expansion on top of the purchase, and we brought Katie on board. She’s becoming an integral part of the business and we pretty much answer to her for everything.

Adding more to the team

Chris: I had the opportunity to become part of this franchise when I was working with state auto insurance, and had that nice nine to five job with perks and benefits…When this opportunity came to join my parents and be the operating partner of Donatos, we didn't have any kids at the time. So, I thought if it was going to happen, it needed to happen now… being trapped in a cubicle is night and day to operating a pizza restaurant, where sometimes on the weekends you’re closing at 1:30 in the morning.

Caitlin: I was born into the family business, and so I’m very fortunate to have grown up with it. I actually purposely went and found a different job during high school to just be able to say I could get a job without being handed a job…. I went to college at Kent State, graduated traveled, and then I came back and was like, ‘What do I do with my life?’ And my dad suggested I give [franchising operations] a try. So I slowly got into it and got an understanding of everything that they were able to build and everything that goes into the business. It’s a lot more than people think. And that was five years ago.

What it’s like to be one of the first Donatos franchisees

Chris: It was a lot of fun… I had a lot of confidence in Jim Grote and knew he had our back, so that part was very smooth…. We’re only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving, so it’s a lot of time and effort, but after all these years, it's really paid off for us… I’ve been doing this for so long, you get to a point where you're kinda used to things being a certain way, and you don't necessarily want to make changes anymore… But Caitlin has come in and ask a lot of questions on why we do things a certain way, or why some things haven’t changed. She’s been a sparkplug when it comes to our growth.

Family business dynamics

Charlene: We haven't had any issues. Chris has really been the operating partner… and we've been retired for a long time now and don't have any worries about what's going on because it's been handled well every step of the way.

Chris: My parents had the opportunity, they had the wealth, and they had the ability to buy into the franchise. I had the time to put in for the growth of the business itself. They were able to support us in starting up the business and came in all the time to help out on weekends. What they brought to the table besides money was how they raised me and how they treated [my wife] Katie, and they knew how well to treat people which is what Donatos is all about.

Goals for the future

Caitlin: I just want to make sure we have the best foundation for the four stores because they all are about 30 years old, so I want to make sure we're all up to date… I'm not looking into growing more stores-- I want to focus on what we have and make it even better because what Chris and Char and Bill have made is amazing, but I think it can be even better… We recently switched payroll companies because we were kind of more old school, so we wanted to get more with the times. Now our associates can access payroll through an app. We’re also looking at healthcare and PTO to make sure we’re creating building blocks for the future… I would potentially look into a new location in Mansfield or a remodel, since Chris spent the last several years remodeling the other three stores.

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