Tag Archives: Donatos

It’s Bigger Than the Pizza

I have the privilege of meeting many interesting people through my job at Donatos Pizza.  We are blessed with great customers who have supported us for over 55 years now and each have their own story to tell.  And as I am continually reminded, many times THEY make a bigger impact on us than they even realize.

Back in June, I first learned about a wonderful lady named Clem Torma, who visits our East Broad Street store almost every other Tuesday to get her favorite food, an individual thin crust sausage pizza.  As fate would have it, that day when Clem came in to get her pizza Donatos founder Jim Grote met her and the two of them took the picture below.


Upon hearing of this chance meeting, I immediately reached out to her family to find out more about her story.  What I learned among many other things is that Clem, who was 102 at the time, had come to America from Italy in a boat at the age of five and landed on Ellis Island.  She worked during World War II as a riveter at Westinghouse in Mansfield.  She has been a widow for nearly half her life and she never had any children.  But boy, has she lived life!  She loved to travel and she was very active in the lives of all her other family members and has taken care of them over the years when they needed it.  We were able to introduce the rest of Central Ohio to Clem and share her story on National Centenarians Day (people who are 100 or older) when WBNS 10TV’s Karina Nova interviewed her in our restaurant that she so frequently visits.

As we parted ways on the day of that interview in September, we promised Clem that we would throw her a pizza party for her 103rd birthday – December 26.  She gladly accepted and I put the date on my calendar as soon as I got back to my desk.

grandmaWhat Clem and her family didn’t realize at the time was that a week before I met her for the first time I had lost my last remaining grandparent.  Grandma Mahaffey and I (pictured celebrating Christmas in 2017) were incredibly close since I was her oldest grandchild and we both loved a lot of the same types of things – sports, good writers and great human interest stories.  Grandma lived to be 96 and had an incredibly full life with so many great memories.  She and Clem would have been great friends had they ever met.  Grandma was also the subject of one of my favorite blog stories that showed me first-hand the power of social media and the amazing kindness of others.

As Christmas approached this year, I began to realize that this would be the first time in my life that I would not get to celebrate Christmas with Grandma. I was extremely blessed to get 46 Christmases with her and I may have watched White Christmas that many times with her.  She loved the holiday season, the music, the lights and most of all the family and friends that she got to spend time with.  This was probably the first time that I truly understood to some degree the feeling of sadness so many deal with around the holidays.

As Christmas came and went, I was eagerly anticipating spending part of Clem’s big day with her.  In talking with her niece, Jan, I knew that there had been some challenging days for Clem since I had seen her last, but the family was really excited to have this celebration.  We showed up with pizza to feed all the residents at the assisted living facility where she lives and boy did Clem’s face light up! (click for video)  She greeted everyone as they entered the dining room and proudly told them that it was her birthday.  She even told me to look around at how many people where there and that we should be able to sell them a lot of pizza.  Good ol’ Clem!  🙂
clem bday2

Karina Nova had also planned to attend the party, but unfortunately needed to anchor the noon news broadcast and could not attend.  So, she did the next best thing and sent Clem this video and then also wished her happy birthday during the broadcast.  Once again, Clem made an impact.  All the residents sang happy birthday to Clem and then enjoyed pizza and cake.  It was great to see the smile not only on Clem’s face, but the smiles on the faces of the other residents and also on the faces of Clem’s family members.
clem bday1

At Donatos, our promise is to serve the best pizza and make YOUR day a little better.  We strive for this every day with every customer.  Sometimes we come up a little short and when we do we try our very best to make it right.  I know that on this day we definitely lived up to our promise.  But you know what is great about having a promise like this?  It actually makes OUR day better too by living it out!  So thank you, Clem, for coming into my life in 2018 just when I needed you and allowing me to play just a small part in one chapter of your great story.  Thanks to your love of Donatos Pizza you made MY day a whole lot better!  Happy birthday!
clem bday3



Donatos…Chapter Three

It’s hard to believe that Friday wrapped up my third year already of working for Donatos at the home office.  And, this year was definitely one that put the emphasis on the field in my title of Field Marketing Manager.

You know you travel a lot when you show up on the airport digital board

When the year began for me, we as a brand were just launching our newest store in midtown Nashville.  This was my first new store opening process and it was great to be in on the ground level from day one in this fun city.  I ended up making numerous visits to check on this store over the year to the point that the great staff at the Courtyard by Marriott Vanderbilt/West End became like family to me and even had my same room ready for each and every visit.  🙂  Thanks, ZsuZsa, Kim, Gary and the rest of the team!  I earned those Marriott Rewards Platinum and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards A-List statuses.

13668981_550920975098330_6019336125809047661_nAs the Nashville store began to get established and I continued working with all the existing stores and franchise partners, we also made plans for our next new store to open in Summerville, S.C. (left).  It ended up opening at the end of July and let me just say that going around town making business visits is not as much fun when it’s 100 degrees and you are dripping sweat.  Each market presents its own unique opportunities and the town of Summerville is filled with great people we get the chance to meet and share our great food with.  Our franchise partners there are a joy to work with and are out spreading the word about Donatos each and every day.

As the fall approached, it was time to figure out how to gain the business of college students as they came back to school in our markets with stores by universities.  One whirlwind day that seems typical of the year had me helping serve pizza to the 7,700 incoming freshmen at The Ohio State University inside Ohio Stadium (below) at lunch time and then flying to Nashville to feed over 1,000 incoming freshmen at Belmont University that evening.  Fun times!


For the second straight year, I also had the privilege of running the Donatos summer-long 13-week contest that saw one of our guests win $1,000 each week and also pick a charity to receive $1,000.  It was such a privilege to hear the great stories of our guests as to why they picked the charity that they did and also to connect with these great organizations who are doing so much to benefit others.  I am extremely grateful to work for a company that believes in giving back.


One other moment of giving to others that was a highlight of my year was getting to attend the Ohio State-Michigan game with three families (above) who had been touched by pediatric cancer.  It was great to be able to let them have this experience and boy did the game turn out pretty exciting with a double overtime win by the Buckeyes that included all of us on the field afterwards.

Two other highlights of the year for me was getting stories of our associates told on local TV stations in both the Nashville and Virginia Beach markets.  The story of Barbie Henry, one of our first hires in Nashville, aired in July and the story of Diego Roma from our Newport News, Va. store aired in November.

As the end of the fiscal year approached, I visited each of my franchise partners over the course of about seven weeks to begin making plans for the 2017 year.  While all this travel could get cumbersome, I try to make the most of it by finding great running routes and making new friends in all the cities that I visit.  I managed to get sunrise or sunset pictures in 9 different states this year while also running in such beautiful places as Lexington, Ky., Newport News, Va., Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, N.C., Nashville and Seabrook Island, S.C.  For those who think that it is too hard to exercise while traveling, I beg to differ.  I logged 3,018 miles running during my third year at Donatos and ran both the Boston Marathon and the Chicago Marathon while also doing four half marathons including lowering my PR three times!

The final two months of my third year at Donatos have been spent focusing heavily on the opening of our newest store in Owensboro, Ky. (below).  I knew from the start that these guys were going to be fun as they were heavily connected in their community and really understood the importance of relationships in selling pizza.  Well, they have been open for one month now and that town has just embraced the store, our product and the partners to the tune of the best first month of any store in company history!


It seems fitting that in a year that saw me spend 70 nights in hotels while traveling that I wrapped it up in South Carolina working out the delivery area for a store in Boiling Springs that will open in a few months.  It should be an exciting year for Donatos with that store and two others (Bowling Green, Ky. and Murfreesboro, Tenn.) opening in the next couple of months along with possibly others as the year moves along.

As I put the wraps on my third year at Donatos, I have to say that it was my most challenging but also my most rewarding year yet.  It can be stressful at times trying to figure out exactly what works in each new market and also balancing life on the road while also having a personal life outside of work.  However, I feel like I grew more professionally and personally this year than ever before and I can’t wait to attack the challenges and new opportunities ahead in year number four.  #PizzawithPassion

The Donatos Journey – Chapter Two

It almost doesn’t seem possible that today marks my second anniversary of starting to work for Donatos.  It seems like just yesterday that I came to the home office on Taylor Station Road in Gahanna for my first day, but yet at the same time it also seems like I’ve been here for so much longer.

The sunrise view from inside the Donatos home office (top) and the outside reflection

The first year was all about getting my feet wet, learning the culture and getting to know the great people who make up the Donatos family from the talented home office associates to the successful franchise partners we work with every day.

It is so much fun to look back on the second year and reflect on how much I have grown in my position as a field marketing manager over the past 365 days as well as reminiscing on some of the special moments that occurred during the year.

First of all, our raving fans deserve tremendous praise for the way they supported us during 2015.  Our 2014 fiscal year had been one of the best in company history and we topped it again in 2015.  Not only is this a testament to the great product that we make and the hard work of all the associates who work at every level to put us in a position for success, it still boils down to our guests choosing to spend their money on the products that we make and allowing us to be a part of so many special events and moments in their lives.  For that, we all say a huge THANK YOU!

I had the awesome opportunity during the summer of 2015 to represent Donatos as the person implementing our 13-week Summer of Your Life campaign.  This was a weekly contest where our guests could sign up by text or email to enter for an opportunity to win $1,000.  The really cool part of this contest was that each winner would then select the charity of their choice to which Donatos would also make a $1,000 donation.  It was so much fun drawing the number of the person from the thousands of entries and making the phone call which usually involved a lot of disbelief until I was finally able to convince them that they had really won.  There were too many cool stories to list here, but it was such an honor and a privilege to represent this great company and watch as we collectively made a difference.

11 of the 13 winners in the Summer of Your Life contest

Another fun moment for me during this past year was representing Donatos before an Ohio State home football game at a Buckeyes Care event that saw 2,000 people enjoy our pizza and other activities before then taking in the OSU game against Western Michigan.  It was fun to see so many kids excited to go to their very first game…and I was one of them!  After nearly 44 years, I also was able to walk into Ohio Stadium and watch the Buckeyes post a victory.  We were able to be a part of providing both a great lunch and a great opportunity for so many that day…it was great!

Brutus and I made sure all the attendees at the Buckeyes Care event had plenty of pizza

As the calendar flipped from 2015 to 2016, much of my time has been spent helping with the opening of our newest store in Nashville, Tenn.  Up until that point, I had not been part of a new store opening, so once again I was learning a bunch of new information and tactics.  I have to say that it has been a great experience for me personally to go through this process as I had the opportunity to work some people who up to this point I had not gotten to know.  It is amazing the amount of talent that we have in our company and the passion with which our associates do their jobs.  While there were many speed bumps along the way to opening day for that store, seeing the outpouring of love and support from our raving fans once again reminded me why I choose to do this job every day!

With as many trips to Nashville as I made during the last quarter of this year, it has almost become like a second home to me.  Such a fun city filled with great people.  And we are working hard to make all of them Donatos raving fans.  I definitely want to say a big thanks to Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN for their support of the new store there and especially all of the Donatos Nashville love they have spread via their social media accounts.  It is invaluable!  I also really appreciate the relationships that have developed with Kim Alexander and the great staff at the Courtyard by Marriott Vanderbilt/West End location…they have become like family and it has become my favorite place to stay while traveling for work.  Once again, it is all about the relationships.  And having really good pizza always helps with getting them started.  🙂

From left:  Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts with Jim Grote, Tom Krouse, and Jane Grote Abell outside the newest Donatos in Nashville before the VIP event

All of this work has not taken away from my running.  In fact, I have used running to make new friends in the places that I visit who in turn I convert into Donatos fans.  I did not log as many miles running this year, but that was due to spending 12 weeks in a boot after breaking my foot in August.  It was still a great year from a running perspective as I had the opportunity to complete my first Boston Marathon and then followed that up by running my first 50K.  I did miss out on six races during the time that I was recovering from the injury, but I finished this work year strong with an 18-mile run in Nashville the morning of our VIP party prior to that store opening.  I have run with the Brentwood Breakfast Club and the Nashville Striders while in town as well as total strangers and a Vanderbilt ROTC group.  Running actually helps me get to know the areas around our stores better than driving around them in a car.

As I start my third year today, I already have 3 trips planned over the next three weeks which will have me visiting our stores in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky as well as the site for our next new store in Summerville, S.C.  It is going to be an extremely busy year with lots of new adventures and some new cities.  Buckle up and join me on the journey!


Horse with a Legend

HorseWithALegendOne of the great things about social media is that it can afford you the opportunity to meet people you may have otherwise never crossed paths with.  I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had many such encounters and I really enjoy when those online friendships cross over into real life interactions.

Today, Twitter helped me have the opportunity to play HORSE with a legend and brought four unlikely friends together.

About five years ago, I crossed paths briefly for the first time with Stephanie White when she was covering the NCAA women’s basketball regionals at Dayton for ESPN and I was volunteering with the site staff compiling game notes.  I started following her on Twitter and enjoyed watching her career unfold from afar.

A couple of years later, I was able to get to know Stephanie a little bit better when she agreed to be a guest speaker via Skype for a Sports Information class that I was teaching.  As I did a little research about her in order to introduce her to my class, I realized what an incredible athlete she is.  She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior in high school and then the Wade Trophy award winner as the National Player of the Year as a senior at Purdue as she led the Boilermakers to the national title.  She also went on to play in the WNBA.

These days, Stephanie just wrapped up her ‘rookie’ season as the head coach of the WNBA’s Indianapolis Fever where she led her team to the WNBA finals.  She also keeps busy in the offseason as a broadcaster, which is what brought her to the Columbus area today as she’ll call the action between Ohio State and UConn on Monday evening.

The other part of today’s Horse with a Legend competition trio is Tim Cary.  Tim is a graduate of Cedarville University, a big rival school of Mount Vernon Nazarene University where I attended college and then worked in the sports information department for 20 years.  I first met Tim in person a couple of years ago, but we’ve been friends via Twitter for a long time before that and he was also a guest Skype speaker in the class that I taught on several occasions.

Like me, Tim also uses social media to develop relationships he might not ever have made otherwise.  He is a worship leader at a church and a very talented pianist.  He is also a big Purdue fan which makes him a big fan of Stephanie White.  Through his work with Bleacher Report and then CBS Sports Online, he had also developed a connection with Stephanie over the years.  This led us to somewhat jokingly saying that the three of us should meet somewhere to play HORSE.  🙂

12247029_816089759070_2233760337608817349_nWell, after almost two years of trying to figure out how to pull this off, we did it today.  With Stephanie coming to the Columbus area for work, Tim found a gym for us to play in thanks to Ray Slagle at Worthington Christian High School who coached a state championship team in 1999 as well as five NAIA Division II national tournament qualifiers at Cedarville.

I’ll be honest…I hadn’t shot a basketball in about six months and haven’t been very active for the past three months due to breaking my foot.  But none of that mattered as it was just about meeting up with people that I respect.  I tried my best, but I’m still not much of a shot and Stephanie quickly knocked me out in both games that we played with a Larry Bird-esque shot over the backboard in the first game and then just a steady barrage of mid-range jumpers in game two.  (Yep, I was the sacrificial lamb who shot after her to start each game.)  Tim did nail some great shots in the second game and nearly pulled off the upset, but Stephanie’s consistent sweet shooting stroke did him in both times too and she picked up the expected title.

Definitely the coolest part of the entire experience was just listening to Stephanie answer questions about life in the WNBA, coaching, broadcasting, and anything else that the three of us tossed her way.  She is a class act and treated all of us as though we were friends that she hangs out with on a frequent basis.  And, I found out that she really likes the chicken spinach mozzarella pizza from Donatos, while Tim was more than happy with the pepperoni pizza I also brought.

Thanks, Stephanie, Tim, and Ray, for making Horse with a Legend possible and so much fun.  And thanks again, Twitter, for allowing me the opportunity to make new friends.

365 Days of Donatos Pizza

1yrworkWow, where did the last year go?  As I sit in my hotel room tonight and reflect on the past 365 days, I realize how much has happened since I made a major career path change and joined the Donatos Pizza family on February 25, 2014.

After 20 years in the college sports information world, I made the jump to the marketing department of a strong and growing regional pizza company with zero experience in the restaurant industry aside from that as a consumer.  The folks at Donatos saw things in me that they liked and felt like they could teach me what I didn’t know, so they gave me a chance to prove myself.

I will say that after that first day on the job I was extremely overwhelmed and wondered more than a little bit what I had gotten myself into as I had an entirely different set of jargon to learn as well as new policies and procedures.  However, thanks to some sage advice from a close friend to be patient and give myself time to learn the ropes and the guidance of a truly great boss in Tom Santor every day brought me a little more confidence and belief that I had made a great choice.

I am really blessed to work with some very talented people in the Marketing Department at Donatos who have patiently helped me learn the ropes.  In addition to Tom, I have really appreciated all the help that Natalie, Ann, Katie, Staci, Carolyn, and our interns have given me to help me succeed in what I’m doing.  It’s truly a team effort, but I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by some serious all stars.  And our strong senior leadership team and the rest of the home office associates have all been a pleasure to work with and get to know.

I’m really happy to report that Donatos had one of its best years in 2014 and it was fun to be a part of that.  I work primarily with franchise-owned stores out of state, and it was a pleasure to get to know some great people who believe in our brand so much that they’ve invested their life savings in it to be a part of us.  I can honestly say that I’ve learned something from each of the partners that I work with and I’m thankful for their patience in allowing me to get through my rookie season.

Traveling for work has provided some great opportunities to meet new people.  I’ve been able to connect with different members in each community and I’m starting to feel like each market is a small home away from home.  Our guests are passionate about our pizza and it’s always great to hear their stories.  One example happened just today as I was at our store in Ashland, Ky. where a group of ladies (pictured below) who worked together for 35 years meet EVERY Tuesday for lunch at our store.  It’s fun to be part of something that means so much to so many people.

ashland ladies

I’m also proud of the fact that we as a company give back so much to each of our local communities.  Whether it is partnering with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Stefanie Spielman Fund for breast cancer research, or each local store supporting local causes, Donatos is committed to being a contributing member of each community we serve.

One other aspect of my new job that I wasn’t sure about when I took it was how I would fit in all of my running since I have an hour commute each way.  What is amazing is that I was actually able to run my highest mileage total ever during the past 365 days as I logged 2,623 miles and completed three marathons while also securing my first trip to the Boston Marathon with my best time ever back in September with a 3:10:25 at the Erie Marathon.  I’ve also managed to run in each of the states that I’ve visited for work and have even made running friends in some of the cities including Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Alana Hadley in Charlotte.

So, as I put a wrap on this first 365 days at Donatos, I am excited to see what all awaits as we as a company have endless opportunities.  My first day of Year #2 should get started with a bang tomorrow when I get the privilege of recognizing one of our associates who went above and beyond at our Somerset Ky. store during a recent winter storm as well as presenting $500 to a 19-year-old college student sweepstakes winner at the same store.  And more than that, it’s just fun to see and hear the great moments that happen in peoples’ lives centered around our great pizza and other products.