May 14, 2021 |  Richard Bilbao and Ryan Lynch | Website


An Ohio-based pizza concept has big plans for new locations in Central Florida.

Donatos Pizza is set to expand its regional presence — which includes a single restaurant in Winter Park — to more than 20-30 franchise locations in Orlando and Daytona Beach.

It’s part of a much larger expansion across the state that includes sites in Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Bonita Springs and Marco Island. Other Florida markets on Donatos’ radar includes St. Augustine, Broward and Miami-Dade counties and Gainesville.

“We are receiving inquiries from people across the state … who are seeing our brand’s aggressive growth strategy, [which] confirms our commitment to focus on Florida,” said Jeff Baldwin, vice president of development and franchising for Donatos, in a prepared statement.

In addition to pizza, Donatos Pizza’s menu includes subs, calzones, wings, salads, appetizers such as meatballs and cheese breads, and desserts such as salty caramel apple pie, cinnamon bread, cookies and brownies.

Donatos locations typically are 1,700 to 2,200 square feet with about 30 part-time workers per store. The franchise investment to own and operate a restaurant ranges from $360,360-$697,400, and there’s a $30,000 franchise fee. The average volume of sales per store exceeds $1.14 million.

Donatos has 261 locations in 14 states and has partnered with gourmet burger chain Red Robin to include pizza items on Red Robin menus.

Meanwhile, the restaurant industry still is recovering from a rocky 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association. In addition, million of jobs — including thousands in the Orlando area — were lost during the pandemic.

Geoff Luebkemann, senior vice president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, told OBJ there is some optimism for better business conditions later this year due to the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. “As business travel comes back — which is big in Orlando — and big corporate organizations relax restrictions on staff travel, whether for budget or for safety reasons. I think we will see really strong volumes in third and forth-quarter of this year, as well as growth opportunities for franchises.”

The expectation within the industry is that off-premises dining — whether delivery, carry-out or other concepts — will continue to have a big presence in the business model for many restaurants even after the pandemic subsides, Luebkemann said.

The company’s expansion comes as short-term appetite for franchise business growth is picking up.

Franchise Insights, part of Norfolk, Virginia-based franchise sales website Franchise Ventures, found in its February survey of those considering business opportunities that 31.2% were planning to start up within the month, compared to 23.8% in the prior month. The report highlighted that optimism related to the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine was among the factors growing optimism for short-term positivity.

On the outlook for the business environment in the next three months, 50% of respondents said conditions would be better or much better, up from 44.4% in January. Those who thought conditions would get worse during that period dropped from 16.4% in January to 13.5% in February.