It’s safe to say that the best decision Tom Krouse ever made was accepting an offer to become the senior vice president of marketing at Donatos Pizza in 2000. He had served as the right-hand man to the chief marketing officer at Wendy’s, another Columbus, Ohio-based brand, but liked the idea of moving up in the restaurant world. 

Little did Krouse know that it would get him on the fast track to eventually becoming the CEO of Donatos Pizza—and to marrying the daughter of Donatos Pizza founder Jim Grote. 

“My funny little line is first I fell in love with [Donatos Pizza] as a customer,” Krouse said on the most recent episode of Peel: A PMQ Pizza Podcast. “Then I fell in love with the job offer. Then I fell in love with the company. And then by the way, I fell in love with Jane [Grote Abell]—and she’s my wife now.”

Related: Donatos Pizza Has Big Plans For DMV, Starting With Maryland

It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though. On the podcast, Krouse discusses some of the missteps that happened early in his tenure at Donatos Pizza. The first year he spent with the brand was particularly trying. He quickly encountered just how different pizza is from other segments of the quick-service world. 

“Pizza is just a different product category,” Krouse said. “Number one, you’re in people’s homes. It’s because of delivery, your connection to your customers is much tighter. There’s fewer transactions every week. But each one of those transactions is that much more important.” 

Krouse would eventually figure out how the world of pizza worked. So much so, that in 2010, he became the man who replaced Jim Grote—his father-in-law—as CEO of Donatos Pizza, a position which Krouse has held for the past 14 years. Effective Oct. 1, Krouse will retire and Kevin King, current Donatos Pizza president, will take over as CEO. 

During his 14 years running Donatos Pizza, Krouse has overseen the doubling of the brand’s footprint—it now has around 170 locations. The franchise system grew from 10 to 45 partners and the average unit sales volume increased 60 percent higher than the pizza industry average. That last point is the one Krouse believes is most important—without happy franchisees, the brand wouldn’t have been as poised for growth as it was and is. Making that happen was a collaborative process, Krouse said on the podcast.

“We had to take the handcuffs off everybody,” Krouse said. “You need to look at the whole model and you need to take out costs that we don’t get any customer credit for. Anything that we did get customer credit for, you could not touch.”

To listen to the latest episode of Peel: A PMQ Pizza Podcast, featuring Tom Krouse, check out these links: 

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