The governor and lieutenant governor of Ohio and the mayor of Columbus were among the dignitaries who showed up recently to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Donatos, the family-owned pizza company known for its adherence to the principles of agape capitalism—or doing business through the power of love.

Donatos’ executives held a ceremony and ribbon cutting at the chain’s original location on Thurman Avenue, where the company honored its past while also unveiling new innovations being developed for use in its restaurants.

Jim Grote opened the first Donatos location on May 31, 1963. It has since grown to more than 450 locations with additional growth on the horizon, including three franchise restaurants slated to open this month. Grote’s daughter, Jane Grote Abell, now serves as the company’s executive chairwoman.

Related: Jane Grote Abell puts the Golden Rule into action at Donatos

Donatos CEO Tom Krouse emceed the ceremony, which also featured remarks from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted, State Senator Hearcel Craig, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin, and Ohio Restaurant Association President John Barker. A ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring four generations of the Grote family was led by Columbus Chamber of Commerce CEO Don DePerro to usher in the next 60 years and beyond. Many members of the original crew from that first location on Thurman Avenue were also in attendance and were recognized, and the city of Columbus renamed Thurman Avenue in front of the restaurant Donatos Way.

this photo shows the governor and lieutenant governor of Ohio presenting Jim Grote with a plaque

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Donatos Founder Jim Grote (Photo by Donatos)

“Jim Grote opened more than just a pizza shop 60 years ago,” Krouse said in his remarks during the ceremony. “He opened minds to a different way to do business—one that was built with virtues, character and ethics. What started with an 800-square-foot location is now a $300 million company that serves pizza and principles in 27 states across the country.”

Grote, who founded Donatos as a 19-year-old, talked about his determination to bring his values with him when he started the business. “Many people told me that if I brought my morals and principles with me that my business would fail,” he said. “I was determined to prove them wrong. I’ve always believed if you treat people the way that you want to be treated and lead with love in every decision you make, that things will work out.”

As part of the ceremony, tours of the recently remodeled original Donatos location included the first public viewing of new technology being developed for the brand by the Grote family’s technology company, Agápe Automation, located in the Edge Innovation Hub on the Donatos campus. These included the SM^RT Saucer, the SM^RT Ring, the SM^RT Pepp, and the SM^RT Cutter.

The goal with the automation is two-fold: It speeds up the pizza-making process while ensuring consistent quality. It also reduces some of the repetitive tasks that associates have typically done and allows their time to be reallocated to better serving customers.

From the start, Grote wasn’t just interested in selling pizza at Donatos: He wanted to “lead with love,” treating his employees according to the Golden Rule and creating positive change in every community with a Donatos location. Abell has carried that philanthropic torch since Grote stepped down as Donatos’ leader in 2010.

Related: “Giving a good thing”: A Q&A with Donatos’ Jane Grote Abell

For example, as Columbus’ south side began to fall on hard times, Abell cofounded the Reeb Center in a former elementary school building and worked with local officials to revitalize the area. The facility now houses 10 nonprofits that offer everything from adult education and workforce development programs to early childhood care, mental and behavioral healthcare, GED and hospitality courses, and statewide certification for nursing.

In March 2022, Abell, Grote and their family also launched the Donatos Family Foundation to focus on three pillars—housing, hunger and health—in the communities that Donatos serves. The foundation devotes a specific time period to raising funds for each pillar every year, starting in 2023 with Habitat for Humanity. Donatos also hires the formerly incarcerated, giving them a chance to rebuild their lives.

With 455 locations in 27 states, Donatos and its franchise partners operate 173 traditional restaurants in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Florida. Donatos’ products are also served in 282 non-traditional locations, including 273 locations with Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and nine sports and entertainment venues.

Click here for more information about Donatos’ franchising opportunities.

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