COLUMBUS (WCMH) – This year, Donatos Pizza is celebrating 60 years of sizzling hot pizza, but the Grote family’s lifetime of pizza making started a few years before that. It was at 14 years old that the company’s founder Jim Grote started working in a local pizza shop and learning a business that would shape his family for generations to come.

“I think what he learned through the next couple of years was just really watching his managers come in and learning about honesty and integrity and bringing your principles to work at a really early age,” said Jane Grote Abell, Chairwoman of the Board at Donatos and daughter of Jim Grote.

At 16, Grote had a chance to buy that pizza business, but his father had other plans.

“My grandpa is like ‘no, you’re not. You’re going to stay at school and you’re going to go to college’,” said Grote Abell. “And so, my dad did. He went to Ohio State. He was a sophomore at Ohio State when he had the opportunity to buy the business again.”

This time with a loan from his father and his future father-in-law, he bought the business. Soon, the entire family was helping build the company into what it is today.

“For me, as a little girl, my dad used to take me out under the sign at Thurman Avenue, and all of us in our pajamas, and talk about being around the world. His vision was always about growing and all because he wanted to be able to give back in every community, and every block that he did business,” said Grote Abell. “So that vision was always out there in our heads. But it was always about doing it the right way and making sure we could base build a business based on principle.”

Those principles are based on the idea of leaving a community better than they found it and one way that can be seen is at the Reeb Avenue Center on the city’s south side. The center is a labor of love that started with a phone call.

“[Columbus] Mayor Michael Coleman called my dad about 12 years ago and said, ‘We really need a champion on the south side, and you started down here’, said Grote Abell. “And if you know my dad, my dad is not one to put his name on things. He’s just like, ‘What can we do to make a difference?'”

In an area where neighbors felt let down for years, the Grote family, with a team of local business leaders and advocates, went to work.

 “Often times, we think we know what people need, so we go to neighborhoods, or we go, and we build something but it’s not necessarily what our neighbors actually need,” said Grote Abell.

Surveys were conducted, plans were made, and a vacant school building was given new life. Inside, there are ten nonprofits focusing on the community needs like food security, housing, safety, access to health, education, jobs and childcare.

“So, it’s really about surrounding the person and wrapping services around the whole person so we can help them on the next path. We believe this building is really about moving and transforming with our neighbors. We’re meeting them where they are today and helping them on to the next chapter.,” said Grote Abell. “But it is my favorite place to be. It’s about seeing people be able to understand that it’s not a handout, but it’s a hand up. And if they just reach out and take that hand, that so many services and so many people in this building are really ready and willing to help them. And to see the success of so many of our neighbors, that’s what’s rewarding.”

Those feelings play into the vision for Donatos’ future, with the goal of opening more centers like the Reeb Avenue Center, as the company grows into new communities around the country.

“I think that’s an important part of who we are because I think Reed is a hub of hope,” said Grote Abell. “Every franchise location that we open up on every corner, and on every block around the United States can be a hub of hope.”

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