Donatos Pizza

60-Year-Old Pizza Franchise Predicts 150-Plus New Locations in 2024

Donatos Pizza president Kevin King shares the brand’s plans for fast growth and futuristic automation while staying true to its core values.

By Tracy Morin

Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos Pizza, on the heels of celebrating its 60th anniversary, announced that it is poised to launch more than 150 new restaurants in 2024. This is a significant jump from 2023, during which it opened more than 30 locations (five traditional stores and 25 strategic partnership locations). The Pizza Hall of Fame member currently boasts a presence in 29 states, with 460-plus locations and nine partnerships with sport and entertainment venues—including being the official pizza provider for the Cincinnati Bengals football team.

Kevin King, president of Donatos Pizza, sat down with PMQ to speak more about the brand’s growth from a small family-owned restaurant to a fast-growing franchise with big expansion plans.

PMQ: Tell us about the company’s growth plans for 2024.

Kevin King: We’re continuing to build on our strategic partnership with Red Robin by opening in additional markets across the nation, and we have an increasing number of new franchise partners with plans to bring Donatos Pizza to some new, exciting markets in 2024. We have invested heavily in our franchise recruitment and are starting to really see it pay off in new partners joining our system.

PMQ: Donatos has spoken about its “commitment to partnering with franchise partners that align with Donatos’ core values.” What does that entail?

King: It’s so important to us to have franchise partners who share our values of integrity, goodwill, and giving back to the community. When your values are aligned, you’re starting from a good place and working in the same direction.

This photo shows Kevin King, with short graying hair, smiling and wearing a white dress shirt with a blue plaid sports coat.
Kevin King (photo courtesy of Donatos Pizza)

PMQ: What are the other driving forces currently fueling your growth for 2023 and 2024?

King: In addition to ramping up franchise development, digital adoption has been key to fueling our growth. We’re continuing to refine our digital ecosystem and are seeing a strong increase in the percentage of online sales as well as growth in the third-party aggregators.

Third-party delivery was one of the biggest disruptions to the industry since delivery and drive-through windows were introduced. We’ve done a great job of integrating with third-party providers, getting the economics right for Donatos so that we can continue to grow in this changing landscape.

PMQ: Can you update us on the plans to launch a fully automated pizzeria in your headquarters city of Columbus? Is there any other new tech in the works from founder Jim Grote’s company, Agape Automation?

King: We’ve deployed our Sm^rt Saucer, which automates the application of sauce, in over 50 restaurants and expect to continue rolling it out to more locations. We are currently testing the Sm^rt Pepp, which slices and applies pepperoni, in four restaurants and will expand that as well. Once those automation solutions are fully integrated, we’ll keep moving toward testing the fully autonomous pizza vending machine with Appetronix.

PMQ: What else is new or next for your business?

King: For a limited time through December, we have the Quattro Italiano pizza, with pepperoni, salami, sausage and ham topped with shaved Parmesan. The year 2024 will see some new takes on existing menu items, the return of some LTO favorites, and some new innovations. The Hot Honey Pepperoni Pizza we introduced this year was the first pizza using Mike’s Hot Honey in our segment, and we plan to continue to stay ahead of trending flavors.