Owner of 17 area Donatos Pizza locations has engineering, military background

This article was originally published in Dayton Daily News on March 5th, 2024.

Growing up in Southeast Ohio in the ’70s and ’80s, Todd Rogers of Dayton naturally ate a lot of pizza. But he never dreamed that pizza would end up being his livelihood.

After graduating from high school in 1984, he went to college at Ohio State University, graduating in 1989 with a degree in industrial and systems engineering.

“I was in the Air Force ROTC in college,” Rogers said. “My grandmother was a guidance counselor, and we were looking for different opportunities to help pay for college.”

Rogers had family members who had been in the military, so he knew about this life. ROTC seemed like a good option, and he was awarded a scholarship in exchange for a four-year commitment to serve active duty.

“I got stationed at Wright Patterson right after college,” Rogers said. “I got my MBA from Ohio State in 1993.”

After earning his master’s degree, Rogers decided to take skills learned in the Air Force and apply them to a job in civilian life. He left military service in December of 1993.

“I started looking at what my next job would be and at opportunities in the corporate world,” Rogers said. “I had a very high-level job at Wright-Patt right out of college, so it was tough to match that.”

Rogers loved his role in the Air Force and wanted something that would be similar in level and responsibility.

“I stumbled upon Donatos (Pizza) in Dayton when I was trying to decide between going to work for a company or doing something on my own,” Rogers said.

At the time, Donatos Pizza was a new pizza restaurant in the area. Originally started and headquartered in Columbus in 1963 by Ohio State sophomore Jim Grote, the company began franchising in 1991.

“I knew very little about Donatos or about running a restaurant,” Rogers said. “My engineering training taught me how to problem solve and my MBA gave a good knowledge of how to run a business. I looked at Donatos and thought ‘this might be fun.’”

Rogers knew immediately that he could also make a difference in the community and in the lives of others and he was drawn to the business for those reasons. From the beginning, he focused on hiring and training people that might not have higher education or even high school diplomas.

“My style has always been more about hiring good people who have strong work ethics and fit in well with a team,” Rogers said. “I knew I wanted to make this a career and not just an investment.”

When Rogers finished training with Donatos Pizza, he helped open the Huber Heights location, which was a company store. He also opened his first three restaurants in Dayton, along with two other franchise partners who were opening stores throughout the Miami Valley.

Feeling energized after his training, Rogers opened his first restaurant in West Carrolton in March of 1994.

“I loved the customers and the way the business operated, and I really loved the pizza,” Rogers said. “I knew right then that I had made the right decision. It was different from anything I had ever done.”

Rogers made a promise to himself and his employees that he would be with them working in the restaurants daily and by October of 1994, he opened his second restaurant. His goal at the time was to have five.

“Dayton is very much a thin crust pizza type of town,” Rogers said. “And it turns out that’s our number one selling pizza. We already had built in demand in Dayton because people would travel to Columbus to eat at Donatos.”

And that turned out to be overwhelmingly true as Daytonians embraced Donatos Pizza and supported it wholeheartedly from the beginning.

In October of 1997, Rogers purchased five Donatos owned restaurants in Dayton and eventually bought out the one other remaining franchisee, giving him a total of 14 locations. Today, Rogers owns 17 Donatos Pizza locations, including two in Springfield and one in Middletown.

“The reality is, I chose to change careers from engineering to restauranteur,” Rogers said. “It’s now my livelihood and I stay actively involved every day, making pizzas like I did from the beginning.”

Rogers said this helps him stay “tuned in” to what’s going on in his stores and with his team. And he encourages his employees to stay involved with their communities and with different causes.

“We donate product to many different nonprofits, from the Breast Cancer Foundation to Habitat for Humanity,” Rogers said. “We try to do as much within the community as we can because we are local and have been local to Dayton for 30 years.”

In the midst of remodeling all 17 of his locations, Rogers also is reinvesting into his restaurants to keep them up to date with the most advanced ovens and technology so he can continue to serve customers quickly and efficiently.

“My kids were born in Dayton and went to school here,” Rogers said. “For us this is home.”

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