The fast-casual pizza segment has gone from nowhere to seemingly everywhere with head-spinning speed. And while a band of start-ups have debuted in the past few years, Donatos Pizza, the leading pizza chain in Technomic’s most recent Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurant Report, is dominating the category. And they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

With 153 restaurants and 15 sports and entertainment venues located in six states, Donatos recently announced plans to grab a bigger share of the franchise pie and further expand its national footprint. Having already opened one new location this year, with a second in the works, company executives are targeting to have more than 200 total units by 2018.

“The components that define the fast-casual pizza category—fresh, super-premium toppings, inventive and unique flavor combinations, and the ability to customize to your heart’s content— have defined the way that we have operated for more than 50 years,” says Tom Pendrey, COO of Donatos. “As the segment’s pioneer, coupled with the increasing number of consumers seeking out this type of meal, we expect to see a lot of opportunity for growth in the coming years.”

The Donatos story began in 1963 when 19-year-old Jim Grote bought a small pizza shop in Columbus, Ohio from a young seminarian for $1,300. Loosely translated from the Latin, Donatos means “to give a good thing,” Pendrey says. That fit Grote’s philosophy perfectly, so he kept the pizzeria’s name. The company was classified “best in class” and acquired by fast food giant McDonald’s Corporation in 1999 as a way to get into the pizza business, but was bought back by the Grote family in 2003.

Today, Donatos’ golden crispy thin crust pizzas—made with smoked provolone (not mozzarella) and Edge to Edge® toppings— have made the family-owned company a favorite in Ohio and beyond. There are three sizes, 7”, 12”, and 14”, and no matter what unique signature pizza combination you choose, it’s all the same price. Some of the favorite signature pies include the Founder’s Favorite (pepperoni, family-recipe sausage, ham, and banana peppers), and the Chicken Spinach Mozzarella (sliced chicken breast, fresh baby spinach, fresh Mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, olive oil, and Romano Parmesan blend ). Customers can also create their own pizza. Other menu items include two gluten-free pizzas, as well as oven-baked subs, garden fresh salads, boneless and traditional wings, and desserts.

To augment the company’s growth, Donatos is actively seeking franchise partners and investors looking to capitalize on the brand’s history, experience and security with a minimum of three restaurants. With a franchise fee of $30,000, the initial investment to own and operate a Donatos restaurant ranges from $460,000 to $670,000.

“There’s no question that fast-casual pizza is coming to your town, if it isn’t there already.  And, much like previous growth sectors of burritos and fast-casual burger, many players will enter the segment, but only Donatos has the history and menu to be the category leader,” Pendrey adds.

Franchising, News, Pizza, Donatos