Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: Tom Krouse, Donatos Pizza CEO
Name: Tom Krouse
Brand: Donatos Pizza
Segment: Fast-casual pizza
Locations: 14 states
How many locations has your brand reopened? How many are closed permanently?
We were very fortunate in that we had to close only one of our locations temporarily during the pandemic. That was due to the lack of travel business at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, where one of the terminals where we had a restaurant shut down. That location has since reopened as travel has begun to pick up.
What are your franchisees telling you about their economic recovery?
The pizza business, which is well-suited for pickup and delivery, has flourished during the pandemic. In fact, we have seen more than 1.5 million new customers place at least one order with us since March 10 and have added more than 100,000 new members to our Donatos Pizza Love Rewards loyalty program. While there have been many challenges during this time, our franchise partners have worked very hard to grow our business. We also opened eight new restaurants during the pandemic with two more slated to open before year-end.
Has business shifted to delivery/pickup? What effect has this had?
Our business has always leaned heavily toward delivery and pickup with dine-in transactions only a small percentage of our sales even before the pandemic. The fact that a large number of our stores have drive-thru windows has really been a plus for us, and we have implemented curbside pickup as well. Our pickup business has increased more than 25% since the pandemic started.
What new programs did you introduce for franchisees during Covid-19?
We introduced two programs during the pandemic: no-contact delivery and curbside pickup.
How have your franchisees responded to these programs?
Our franchise partners have been tremendous throughout the pandemic by implementing recommended changes as they are announced, and by suggesting ideas that could help our entire system. It has been a true collaboration of our entire system, and our communication system-wide has greatly improved during the pandemic.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
First and foremost, they are working day-in and day-out to follow all safety protocols and provide the safest environment possible for both our associates and customers, while delivering on our mission to our customers: to serve the best pizza and make your day a little better. Our entire system has done a great job of giving back in the communities they serve through pizza donations to front-line health care and other essential workers. Everyone has done a great job of living up to the Latin meaning of Donatos, “to give a good thing.”
How are customers responding to your reopening guidelines?
Our customers have been amazing with the ways they have supported our business in record fashion. While a large portion of the restaurant industry has really struggled during these challenging times, our loyal customer base keeps coming back and we are gaining new customers every day. Our reputation for serving a fresh, delicious, consistent product has served us well.
Have your suppliers supported you through the pandemic? Do you expect any permanent changes in how you do business with them?
The Donatos culture of “treating others the way you wish to be treated” flows through all aspects of our business. This includes how we treat our business partners every day. Our relationships with our key business partners span decades. When it comes to our core ingredients — such as dough (we’ve made our own since 1963), sauce (we’ve used the same business partner since 2003), cheese (same business partner since 1995), and pepperoni (same business partner since 1989) — these business partners truly become members of our family. Because of our loyalty and commitment with our business partners, they have prioritized Donatos business during the pandemic. We are proud to say we have had an uninterrupted supply of product for nearly all of our 300 SKUs — and they have done this while maintaining the highest standards for product quality.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
At the moment, it’s still hard to imagine life after Covid, but we are very eager and hopeful for that day to get here. Delivery and pickup will remain a strong emphasis for us, and we are excited to continue to grow and expand into new markets.
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