Saturday, December 06, 2003

Of Donut Shops and Starbucks

Despite smart urban decor and multiple laptop stations, trendy coffees and gourmet noshes, soft jazz music and Euro coffee-pub atmosphere, Starbucks and its cousins will never replace a great old-fashioned neighborhood donut shop. In fact, they are two entirely different animals. A sleek leopard and a friendly golden retriever.

There is a corner donut shop in our neighborhood situated in the same large strip mall as a Starbucks. (A highly unusual arrangement, it should be noted. It was a very early Starbucks location. Leases now inked by the Seattle-based corp mandate that no other coffee retailer can occupy the same strip mall. No exceptions.) Both Donut Star and Starbucks have plenty of business, albeit at different times. Starbucks customers plan to linger, to read, to chat with friends on the small front patio. Every morning, Donut Star customers line up out the plain glass door, eager for freshly made donuts and a hot cup of joe to go in white styrofoam cups.

The husband and wife owners of Donut Star keep their shop open 24/7, 365 days a year. Yup, they never close. They work together there every day of the year, and family or local teenagers man the small store during quieter hours. The coffee is newly brewed, delicious and inexpensive. During peak times, they keep fancier flavored coffees in thermoses on the counter...butterscotch, hazelnut, French vanilla, chocolate almond. No lattes with soy milk, no caramel macchiattos, no triple-shot expressos.

The glass cases are chock-full of fresh, sweet and but not sickly-sweet, traditional cinnamon rolls, croissants, danishes, blueberry and banana walnut muffins, cream-filled horns, maple and chocolate bars, and donuts, donuts, donuts....plumply raised, chocolate and delicate yellow cake, crusty old-fashioneds, airy French crullers. Not just chocolate icing, but also orange, strawberry, rich maple, a rainbow of sprinkles, nuts, coconut, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar. All with nary a day-old bite in sight.

The owners and employees are invariably pleasant and attentive to each customer. I go in there perhaps 3 times a month, and it is astonishing that they remember my coffee preference. (Tall butterscotch, black.) He even apologizes humbly when they are out of my fave. The shop is always clean and brightly lit with 4 small 1980s table-and-chair fixtures attached to the floor beyond the cash register. A well-read copy of today's local newspaper is there for anyone with a few spare minutes. Under the window are notices for a kids' soccer league and senior citizens news.

No music, no hyper-cool merchandise, no pretensions.

I would love to see comparative sales data for the Donut Star and Starbucks in this same strip mall near our home. My educated hunch is that Donut Star's sales of coffee and fare outstrip those of Starbucks.

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