Donatos founder hopes giving back will inspire a chain reaction


Jim Grote landed his first job as a paper boy on the south side of Columbus in 1956. He was 13 and his family lived on Washington Avenue, just a few short blocks from Parsons. He later moved on to slice pepperoni and shred cheese at nearby Si’s Pizza. At 20, he put down $1,300 on a small pizzeria on Thurman Avenue. That little restaurant was the start of Donatos, now one of the nation’s largest pizza chains. It remains one of the business’ most successful locations.

Though Grote spends most of his time traveling outside Columbus, he and Donatos are committed to investing in the Parsons area, the place they still call home—to their family, and to their business.

Q: Why are you investing here?

A: Many in my family still live in south Columbus. This is where our business and our success began. I’m trying to help out and encourage others to join us, and they are. In particular, our family and Donatos are strong supporters of the South Side Learning & Development Center, which helps our children prepare for success in kindergarten and helps our parents go to school or go to work. This is the first time in 50 years that a mayor has taken a serious interest in revitalizing this area. We’re ready to bring together the three things that will make our efforts successful: government, public foundation support, and private resources and energy.

Q: What excites you about the Parsons area?

A: We have great projects in the pipeline. We’re seeing new pockets of life spring up, like Hal & Al’s vegan restaurant and bar, in addition to the incredible developments of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We still have the vibrant, enduring success stories that have kept the area strong, like Plank’s and Tee Jaye’s restaurants. We also have important, restorative work being done by the Parsons Avenue Merchants Association, Keep Columbus Beautiful, Community Development for All People, and other vital local organizations. An especially exciting development on the south end of Parsons is the John Maloney Health and Wellness Center, which is being built right now.

Q: What does the neighborhood still need?

A: We have some great businesses already serving south Columbus, but we need to redevelop our older buildings. The neighborhood has some basic needs for new businesses, such as a bank, a dry cleaner, and additional places for food and entertainment. We need more people to invest in re-purposing our buildings and filling them with entrepreneurs. We need more places like Hal & Al’s, or Explorer’s Club nearby. Parsons should be a vibrant blend of commercial and residential, as it once was and will be again.

Q: How do you see development on either side of Parsons influencing the area’s growth in between?

A: Nationwide Children’s Hospital on the north end and the new health center on the south end are tremendous investments. They’re development bookends. We just need to give some attention to the “books” in between the bookends. A thoughtful, pedestrian hub of development is on its way. Parsons is the commercial spine of south Columbus, with great neighborhoods on both sides of the avenue. It is an area ripe for investment.

Brian Higgins