Running several Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Virginia isn’t just a job for Andy Rod. It’s about spreading the feeling of home and supporting family.

Rod, who is 52, grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey, where the Dunkin’ shops were a familiar sight. “We went to Dunkin’ all the time as a kid and I really remember it,” he says. “I was an incredible sour cream donut fan.”

His love for the brand continued after he graduated from Lehigh University and joined his family’s office supply business in Passaic, New Jersey. “Our warehouse was down the street from a Dunkin’ and I’d go there all the time back in the days of Roast Beef Sandwiches and Beef Barley Soup,” he says. “I think that when you grow up where Dunkin’ has been around forever, it’s almost a part of your life.”

Family Roots

Rod attended private school with Randi Pickelny, the woman who he would eventually marry, though they were four years apart at school. “I was a senior when she was a freshman, and we didn’t know each other,” he says. “But my sister saw her at someone’s graduation party, and after some conversations, we met and began dating. I loved to ski and she looked good in stretch pants.”

The couple met in 1986 and married three years later. Their daughter Jordan was born in 1994 and son Spencer was born two years later. Their third child, Julia, was born in 2001.

Rod always knew he had, as he called it, “the entrepreneurial disease.” He not only helped build the family’s office supply business, he later developed a roster of business consulting clients and also invested in a dot-com venture in Boston. Wherever his travels took him, he would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts whenever he could.

“In Boston, you can’t help but trip over a Dunkin’ Donuts,” he says.

In 1998, he joined Value America, an Internet company based in Charlottesville. He and Randi relocated to Virginia with toddlers Jordan and Spencer. “We wanted to stay in Charlottesville and I thought, ‘What doesn’t this city have? A Dunkin’ Donuts.’”

Bringing Dunkin’ to the South

Rod approached Dunkin’ to open Stores in Central Virginia, where none yet existed. The brand asked him to write a business plan, which they ultimately approved. Rod and his father-in-law, Norman Pickelny, established Norson, Inc. – later renamed Central Virginia Management Services – and brought Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins to Central Virginia.

It’s a family affair; Norman provides financial guidance and oversight, while Rod’s sister-in-law, Stephanie Pickelny, oversees the operational details. Rod operates the business along with a small central management team headed by his manager of Accounting and Operations, Stephanie Woodson. Today, six years after launching, the business operates a network of nine Dunkin’ Donuts shops clustered from Richmond to Charlottesville to Roanoke.

Like many other northern transplants who open Dunkin’ Donuts shops south of the Mason-Dixon line, Rod has learned that the sales mix features a higher percentage of donuts and a smaller percentage of beverages.

“We didn’t realize it’s a donut business down here,” says Rod. “We had a business plan based more on a northern model, but we’ve had to plow the donut fields and work to turn them into beverage fields. We actually have people come in our stores that don’t know we sell coffee. We’ve had to learn to overcome that.”

Another challenge is geography. You would have to drive four-and-a-half hours to visit all nine stores in their network. In between the cities there is little else but rural countryside.

“We can’t take advantage of a central kitchen because we’re more spread out. It’s significantly different than doing business in the Northeast,” he notes.

Still, Rod believes the brand is a welcome sight. “We are a small part of two of the world’s best known brands and I think it just gives everyone a smile,” he says. “The neatest part of the business is the vast majority of the people who come in, are so happy to be in a Dunkin’.”

Giving Back to the Community

Jordan Rod, now 20, attends Piedmont Valley Community College, and Julia, 13, goes to the Henley Middle School in Charlottesville. But one of the biggest draws for Rod to stay in Charlottesville is the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), where his son Spencer, now 18, has been a student since he was three years old. The school is dedicated to helping its students thrive through education, outreach, and adult services.

Students with autism lose support from the school systems at age 22. As the first VIA students approached adulthood, the VIA community knew they had to come up with a solution for continued learning. VIA started delivering adult services in 2011, and Rod was instrumental in connecting the students with their first work-study opportunity at his Dunkin’ Donuts.

Some students can work independently, while others need more oversight. Students can get involved in tasks such as portioning out or decorating donuts, filling napkin dispensers and wearing the Cuppy costume to welcome guests outside the shop – all important tasks that go into the daily operation of a Dunkin’ Donuts store.

“We’ve had some kids work with us for a year or two, and some
of the highly functioning kids can get into a routine very well,” says Rod.

Not long ago, Georgia Webb, a 22-year-old from Charlottesville, who graduated from VIA’s James C. Hormel School in June 2014, became the first VIA student in the new program to receive a paycheck. Others, like Rod’s son Spencer, are happy to work for food. In Spencer’s case that consists of a plain toasted bagel with cream cheese – cut into fourths – and iced tea served in a cup with a straw.

“He’s a simple guy,” says Rod affectionately. “He can’t read, but we can be driving anywhere and see a Dunkin’ Donuts and he’ll say, ‘Dunkin’ Donuts! I want a bagel hot cream cheese!’”

The program helps foster independence. “Adults need places to continue learning,” says Rod. “I believe people get satisfaction when working with us. I am not sure they understand the concept of work, but they understand what they like. If we can make some small difference in one person, it means a lot to us.”

The feeling is mutual, too. “We are excited about the partnership and we hope to expand it and see more adults involved,” says Kristin Twiford, VIA’s communications coordinator. “It sets an example of how VIA and organizations like ours can work with businesses in the community.”