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For some four decades, Jane Grote Abell has lived and breathed the Donatos Pizza culture. Her new book, The Missing Piece: Doing Business the Donatos Way, shares the history of the Columbus, Ohio–based brand, as well as anecdotes from Abell herself and other members of the pizza family.
“The real heart of it is being able to share our story internally for our associates as we continue to grow outside of Columbus, Ohio. But it’s a book made up of everyone’s story, so it’s not just my story; it’s a reflection of all the associates who’ve been with us over 40 years,” Abell says.
Donatos was founded by Abell’s father Jim Grote 53 years ago. McDonald’s purchased the brand in 1999, but Abell and her father bought it back a few years later. Working with the largest quick serve in the world was a great opportunity that taught Abell valuable lessons. Because of this experience, she says, many industry professionals were especially interested in a behind-the-scenes tell-all from that time period.
While Abell does share details of the brand’s temporary alliance with McDonald’s as well as her stint on CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” it is not the heart of the book. In fact, hearts play an important role in her story; not only does the cover art feature a pizza with a heart-shaped cutout, but Abell makes a case that the “missing piece” in many businesses is ultimately its heart.
“I was always so intrigued as people would come onboard and talk about how different our culture was, and quite understood that honestly because this is all I knew; I grew up in this culture,” says Abell, who spent much of her career working human resources within Donatos’ “People Department.” For her, a strong work environment is one that allows people to bring their whole selves to work.
Having served as chief people officer and co-owner, she is now chairwoman of the board and still very active in the brand. She distills her leadership philosophy down to the “Four Cs of Success,” character, conviction, courage, and compassion. The latter two seem especially important to her understanding of Donatos’ relationship with its franchisees. Purchasing the brand from McDonald’s in 2003 lent Abell a deeper appreciation of the kind of commitment franchisees make when they sign on.
“They’re not just putting an investment strategy together; they’re actually putting heart into their business and obviously a financial investment. That makes a difference. I know it did for me personally,” Abell says, adding that a great part of franchising is the franchisor’s ability to choose the partners who are passionate about the product and best-suited for a long-term relationship.
“When you have a staff and a team around you that cares about the people they’re working with then that’s truly the essence of a brand and when it can come to life,” she adds.
The Missing Piece will be sold in Columbus-area Barnes & Noble stores as well as all of Donatos’ locations across seven states. A portion of the proceeds from each purpose will go to either the Donatos Family Promise Fund, which helps pay for other associates’ medical costs, or Reeb Avenue Center, a community-focused nonprofit in the south side of Columbus, with which Abell is involved.
Next up for the brand is the opening its first Nashville store featuring a fast-casual feel, craft beer, locally sourced produces, and live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Abell’s Millennial-aged kids approve the new look, and she says it’s all part of tweaking the brand without changing its heart.
By Nicole Duncan