Monday, July 18, 2022

[EXCLUSIVE] After Nearly Two Decade Absence, Donatos Returning to Atlanta This Fall

A familiar pizza brand is returning to a familiar part of Atlanta.  Donatos Pizza is returning to Toco Hills where it operated one of 23 Atlanta area locations until the chain's late 2002 exit.  The new Donatos replaces Shorty's, another pizza eatery, which closed in the LA Fitness anchored center in late 2019 after fourteen years in business. (A second Shorty's remains in business on Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker.)

The new Donatos, at 2884 North Druid Hills Road, is little more than a stone's throw from where it once operated from a freestanding building at 2963 North Druid Hills Road, today home to Chipotle.  Donatos, like Chipotle, Boston Market and Fazoli's, among others, was once owned by McDonald's, but was subsequently sold off in order for the burger company to focus on burgers.  Donatos founder Jim Grote, and his family, purchased Donatos from McDonald's in 2003.  

"Atlanta is a great market, and we hope to come back," Tom Krouse, then Donatos Vice President of Marketing said in 2002 at the of the chain's Atlanta exit.  "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward."  

In 2013, we delivered an exhaustive post on the statuses of the 23 former Atlanta area Donatos Pizza restaurants and what they were in 2013.  

Refrigerated Donatos Pizza was for a while offered at local Kroger stores, but the Columbus, Ohio-based chain officially re-entered Georgia in 2019 with a single outpost in Savannah.  

In a June 2021 release, word came that Donatos was planning a metro Atlanta return.  “We are thrilled to continue our expansion into Atlanta as the demand for our premium pizza continues to rise,” says Jeff Baldwin, Vice President of Development & Franchising for Donatos. “Atlanta is an amazing city and shows huge potential for Donatos to continue expanding across the growing metro area.”

Donatos return to metro Atlanta is being led by 34 year old Drew Zorniger, a native of Dayton, Ohio and an MBA graduate of Emory University's Goizueta Business School.  Despite having no prior restaurant or hospitality experience, Zorniger felt compelled to bring the Donatos brand back to Atlanta given what he described as "white space" in the market locally.  Donatos positions itself above national chains like Pizza Hut and Papa Johns and as Zorniger sees it, aligns more with the quality of a pie from locally based Mellow Mushroom.  

In the 2021 announcement, Decatur, Druid Hills, Morningside, and Old Fourth Ward were listed as target locations for upcoming restaurants.  Zorniger confirmed to ToNeTo Atlanta that the Toco Hills outpost is the "Druid Hills" location and that another we identified, 29 North Avondale Road in Avondale Estates, will serve as the previously mentioned "Decatur" outpost.  A third location could follow sometime in 2023 in another intown community, but its location and timeline will be determined by a number of factors including, but not limited to, the performance of the first two stores and real estate availability.  

Donatos return will come complete with their popular square cut pizzas and Edge to Edge toppings but the ordering system we grew up on where patrons ordered via stationary phone at their table has been replaced with a typical counter order process.  

The roughly 1,600 square foot Toco Hills restaurant will feature inside dining, takeout and delivery and should open first, sometime in September.  The Avondale Estates restaurant, located adjacent to Santo Cantina and Cocina, is just over 2,000 square feet, and in addition to the offerings of Toco Hills, will also offer patio seating and should open soon after.  

Krouse has since 2010 served as Donatos' CEO and leads a company that today includes over 375 locations in 22 states. 

Are you excited for the return of Donatos to metro Atlanta?  What is your favorite pizza chain currently?  Are you an Ohio State fan who just found the location of your next alumni event?

Please share your thoughts below.   


Anonymous said...

That is a pretty small place for a chain restaurant-literally a hole in the wall.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to Atlanta. I recall the chain having a number of locations in the area.
Service and quality of the pies was hit and miss and that may be one of the reasons the chain closed.

I recall our last visit when you placed your order via a phone in each booth and your food arrived a short time later except for us the wait time was super long and we didn't get drinks or eating utensils.
We made the decision never to return and the store closed a few months later.

Anonymous said...

Amazing pizza!!! I’m thrilled they are coming back. I used to love making a late night pizza run to the Toco location!

Anonymous said...

I love pizza and live close by this location so will definitely try it out. I never got their pizza when Donatos was in Atlanta before.

Anonymous said...

As I recall, Shorty's had a decent "non-pizza" menu and a liquor license. Hope the new place is the same.

Anonymous said...

Another pizza place ? And a chain ? Someone haven’t done their homework

Anonymous said...

I recently fed my entire family on vacation in Jacksonville Beach one night with two large pizzas from Donato's down there. It was delicious and they ate every bit. I should have gotten 3 pizzas. And they are generous with their toppings!

Anonymous said...

I moved to Atlanta area and am absolutely thrilled to be able to enjoy a Donato's PIZZA...last I had was in Carmel Indiana...LOVE DONATO'S PIZZA!!! WELCOME TO GEORGIA AGAIN!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

As a native Ohioan, I am looking forward to Donato's returning to Atlanta. For Atlanta to be an international city, Atlanta has the worst pizze.
Donato's Pizza will bring REAL PIZZA to the citya

Anonymous said...

Yes yes yes. O-H. I really wish they would find their way to the Alpharetta. Johns Creek area. I've been craving a big Don sub for Years.

Anonymous said...

Sooo ready for Donato's PIZZA... please give us an open date...SOONER THAN LATER...I CAN HARDLY WAIT ...BUCKEYE, INDIANA...NOW GEORGIA

Anonymous said...

Fantastic news. Hoping to see they find their way up to the Bridgemill area.

Anonymous said...

Please please please please please come to Lawrenceville!!!! I absolutely love your pizza and have been craving it for almost 2 straight decades.

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