When a customer base feels a particular passion for their favorite place, they tend to get a little protective of it and greet news of new ownership with skepticism and uneasiness.
But Tariq and Raissa Azmi, who took over The Donut Whole in May after founder Michael Carmody filed for bankruptcy protection and sold the business, say they aren’t interested in making any big changes.
At least, not any that longtime customers would have reason to get upset about.
“We’re not trying to change the feel of the place,” said Raissa, who has become the store’s day-to-day manager since Carmody departed. “We’re trying to make it better, make it cleaner and make it more enjoyable.”
An example should is visible now on the roof of the shop at 1720 E. Douglas, which originally opened in 2009.
Since then, the shop’s iconic rooster, who nests on the roof and is named “Ed,” has become a landmark on Douglas. But over the years, he became faded and dingy, and almost all the yellow in his beak and the red in his comb and wattles had disappeared.
On Tuesday, the Azmis had Ed painted and restored to his 2009 splendor. (You can see a cool drone video of Ed getting painted on the Dining with Denise Facebook page.)
“He’s looking kind of rough, and that’s been one of the things I’ve been asking since I’ve been here: ‘Is there any way we could take care of Ed up there?’” Raissa said.
The Azmis have already made a few other changes, including adding a coat of paint to the interior and installing new display cases so that customers can see what flavors the shop has for sale while waiting in line. Previously, all the doughnuts were stored on racks behind the counter.
When the front dining room was recently being painted, the Azmis said, the painter taped off the giant tiger face that once decorated Joyland but has been hanging at the Donut Whole for years. Some people assumed that meant the tiger was going away, and Raissa said she even heard rumblings of a #savethetiger campaign on social media.
No need, the Azmis said. The tiger stays.
“The tiger’s not going anywhere,” Tariq said. “We had no intention of ever moving him.”
The new owners do intend, however, to take out the dingy carpet in that room and add some bright new menu boards at the counter. They’re also planning to re-cover the shop’s booths and improve the menu board at the drive-through so that people ordering outside know what’s available inside. Eventually, Tariq said, he may add 24-hour service back to the drive-through on the weekends.
Though Carmody took all the recipes he invented with him when he left, they said, the longtime bakers are still on staff and know how to make them. They’re in the process of getting the recipes written down.
But the Azmis didn’t change the menu or the recipes and don’t intend to, they said. Their baker has been polling customers to find out if any flavors from the past should be brought back, and they want to invent a few new flavors, too.
Raissa said she’s been getting several cold calls from brides wanting doughnuts for their weddings, so she’s planning to invest in some bigger boxes and come up with some fancier doughnuts with more intricate icing that can be ordered for special occasions.
They’re also offering doughnuts made with beer from their neighbor Hopping Gnome Brewing Co. every Friday, gluten-free doughnuts every Sunday and Tuesday and vegan doughnuts every Wednesday.
The new owners are also still dealing with the aftermath of Project X, a GoFundMe campaign Carmody started to raise money for his struggling business. It raised $23,972 in total from hundreds of donors, who pledged between $25 and $100 each with the promise of Donut Whole swag and prizes as a reward. But shortly after, Carmody filed for bankruptcy protection, and all the money was garnished by the state.
It’s taken the Azmis weeks to figure out who is owed what, but they think they’re closer. Buttons are printed, T-shirts are ordered and they’re working on a system to organize how to distribute free birthday doughnuts to those who were promised them.
Raissa said that she still gets about 20 emails a week from people inquiring about how to redeem their Project X prizes.
“We are trying to fulfill all the promises that were made,” Tariq said. “We’re trying to figure out what the best process is.”
People have suggested to Tariq that he add panini sandwiches or hotdogs to the menu, but he said that doesn’t feel right. He doesn’t want The Donut Whole to stray too far away from what it always has been.
“The only thing I would probably ask of the community is keep us in check,” he said. “Don’t let us go too far out for the sake of improvements. We may not see that, and that’s my only fear. I don’t want to take it out of what it was known for.”
The Donut Whole’s hours are 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays,