Domino's Pizza announced that it has refranchised its 26 Minneapolis-based, company-owned stores to a local owner-operator.

With the acquisition, franchisee Bill Graves' company, Ultimate Challenge, becomes the third-largest U.S. Domino's Pizza franchise, operating 73 stores in six states.

"The strength of Domino's Pizza is its franchise system," says Scott Hinshaw, executive vice president of franchise operations and development. "With nearly 1,200 franchisees in markets around the world, we've found that local, hands-on leadership is crucial to our success.

"Throughout our history, we have strategically refranchised corporate stores where it makes sense. Minneapolis is an important market for us, and we are pleased that Bill Graves has decided to further invest in this market with this purchase. We are confident he can help make Domino's Pizza the dominant player in Minneapolis," Hinshaw says.

Graves opened his first Domino's Pizza store in 1985. Since that time, he went on to open 46 more, and operates stores in Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Graves announced that all current store employees are eligible to retain their positions within his franchise. No stores will be closed as a result of this sale; instead, Graves intends to use this investment as a way to grow further in this market.

With this transaction, Domino's Pizza LLC operates 429 company-owned stores throughout the U.S., or less than 5 percent of its global stores.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, News, Pizza, Domino's