last year's Blockbuster Video post, I thought I would explore another business of yesteryear.
Donatos Pizza, though not as well known as Blockbuster Video, featured rather recognizable structures, many of which still stand today. The relatively small Columbus, Ohio-based pizza chain was started by Jim Grote in 1963. By 1998, Grote had nearly 150 locations of franchised and company owned restaurants.
Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's took note of Grote's success and purchased his company in 1999. With new McMoney, Donatos accelerated its growth, perhaps too fast, expanding in the Atlanta market, which they had first entered the year before. In total, 23 locations were opened in metro Atlanta. I recall going to the grand opening of the restaurant in Toco Hills, and also seeing others in East Cobb and Holcomb Bridge being built. Each restaurant looked the same, with a brick and stucco exterior and and corner entrance with clerestory windows and an arched top. Additionally, construction costs per unit were reportedly about $750,000.
A few odd things about the chain were that unlike a typical pizza chain. Donatos featured a drive-thru, something instituted by McDonald's to increase sales. Easily the most odd of everything, was that for inside diners, you would sit at a booth, or high top, and call in your order using a stationary phone at the table. This was both unique and annoying, but definitely made the restaurant stand out. Donatos pies were round, but cut into square slices, and as I recall, were reasonably priced for what you got. Lastly, each location had at least one PT Cruiser that functioned as a moving billboard and catering vehicle. The PT Cruiser was quite popular at the time, and to have so many with the company logo, all over town, was surely a great marketing idea.
Evidently, the Atlanta market did not embrace the oddities and uniqueness of the pizza chain, as the area stores were not meeting company expectations. In November 2002, it was announced that all 23 Atlanta area locations would close. In the years since, many different businesses have taken shape in former Donatos. Some like Chipotle Mexican Grill (another former McDonald's concept) and the now shuttered Sheridan's Frozen Custard were more creative than others in disguising the building's former use. Please find below my compilation of most of the locations.
980 East Piedmont Road (Marietta) Dunkin' Donuts
3622 Dallas Highway (West Cobb) Georgia Heritage Bank
2963 North Druid Hills Road (Toco Hills) Chipotle Mexican Grill
4373 Lawrenceville Highway (Tucker) Sheridan's Frozen Custard -> Vacant
3620 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard (Duluth) Duluth Diner
4009 Five Forks Trickum Road (Lilburn) VIP Cleaners -> Demolished -> SunTrust Bank
1830 East West Connector (Austell) at&t
4160 Old Milton Parkway (Alpharetta) STIX Sushi & Thai -> Cuzi Fresh Cafe
3585 Peachtree Parkway (Cumming) Panda Express
2075 Towne Lake Parkway (Woodstock) Hardee's, imagine that!
1012 Whitlock Avenue (Marietta) Dryclean City -> Whitlock Kleeners
4705 Woodstock Road (Roswell) Lucia's Italian Restaurant
3219 Holcomb Bridge Road (Norcross) Guthrie's
4795 Sugarloaf Parkway (Lawrenceville) Wachovia Bank -> SunTrust Bank -> Vacant
1084 Johnson Ferry Road (East Cobb) Mama Fu's -> Flying Biscuit Cafe -> Demolished -> Chase Bank
3720 New MacLand Road (Powder Springs) PNC Bank
4540 South Cobb Drive (Smyrna) Demolished -> SunTrust Bank
1840 Sandy Plains Road (Marietta) Demolished -> SunTrust Bank
1840 Sandy Plains Road (Marietta) Demolished -> SunTrust Bank
3340 Cobb Parkway (Acworth) Demolished -> Chase Bank
1295 Indian Trail (Lilburn) Frontera Mex-Mex Grill
Windward Parkway & Hwy 9 (Alpharetta then, City of Milton today) Land lease that Donatos signed and paid for but that seen no action and remains vacant
? (Douglasville) A parcel was secured but never built on. Site is now a strip center.
*1000 Holcomb Woods Pkwy (Roswell) (Atlanta Pizza Co. franchise offices)
I learned that that Drew Meyer, then President of The Atlanta Pizza Company, the franchise group that brought Donatos to Atlanta, has been involved in many other food service operations from Atlanta. Before Donatos, Meyer was Vice President, Company Operations for Popeye's while immediately after Donatos, he was Vice President Operations for ROI, LLC, a multi-state Honey Baked Ham Franchise. Later he was President of Moe Food, LLC, a ten unit Moe's Southwest Grill franchise, one of the company's first. Today, Meyer is Senior Director at Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Gifts in Kind Support. The ReStore is an off price retail store that sells donated home products to raise funds for the organization. Recently, the organization announced tremendous growth plans for the operation.
Interestingly, in my search for locations, I came across a rather interesting post on an Ohio State alumni LinkedIn page where "Jamie" seems to gauge the interest in having Donatos return to Atlanta. "Hey Buckeyes in Atlanta...how'd you like to see Donatos Pizza come back to town???" This question was posted last fall and received one enthusiastic response.
Local real estate contacts also say that Donatos may, in fact, be targeting a return to Atlanta. It's highly likely if and when new locations do come to Atlanta that they will be endcap, inline locations, rather than free-standing buildings. This new inline concept is what the chain has built in their recent entries in both North and South Carolina. As I mentioned, the free standing buildings ran about $750K in construction costs and like El Poll Loco, while they each selected good locations, their real estate costs got them in trouble. Donatos, like other pizza chains such as Pizza Hut, have realized that they can do well without full service operations and instead increase delivery and takeout sales.
For those of you locals in need of a Donatos fix, now the chain's Take & Bake pizzas are available at Atlanta area Kroger stores, even the one at Cofer Crossing where I first saw it. Additionally, customers can also order by mail via the chain's Pizza Parcel option.
Do you miss Donatos? What was your favorite aspect of the former Atlanta Donatos in their pizza serving days? If Donatos did come back, where should they open?