Dining With Denise Neil

Doughnut wars in Wichita: Hurts plans to file suit against Smarts

The owners of Hurts Donut say they have filed a lawsuit against the owner of Smarts Doughnut, saying they stole their business idea and recipes.
The owners of Hurts Donut say they have filed a lawsuit against the owner of Smarts Doughnut, saying they stole their business idea and recipes. The Wichita Eagle

There’s a doughnut war cooking in Wichita.

The owners of Hurts Donut Co., which on Monday is opening its first franchise in Wichita at 7010 W. 21st St., say they plan to file suit against the owners of Smarts Doughnut, a similar shop scheduled to open in a couple of months in the old Cero’s space at 1108 E. Douglas.

Hurts owners Tim and Kas Clegg, who founded the Hurts Donut chain in Springfied, Mo., in 2014, contend that Smarts owner Brian Helmer and his manager Evan Spicer were in talks with them earlier this year to open a Hurts Donut franchise in Lawrence. Kas Clegg says that the duo spent several days at both her Springfield store and at her Norman, Okla., store learning the business.

“He watched the process,” she said of Helmer. “He was there shadowing all of our processes, including our numbers down to our charitable business model to our recipes. We talked for months and months and months. There was nothing left out.”

Then, she said, she learned that the duo had placed an order with her supplier that was identical to hers. Not long after, she learned they were planning to open their own shop in Wichita using a menu – and a name – nearly identical to hers. The Cleggs came up with Hurts Donut based on an old joke where the jokester asks, “Want a Hurts Donut?” then gives the jokee a playful punch and says, “Hurts, don’t it?” Since “smarts” is another word for “hurts,” the Cleggs say, it’s more than just a coincidence.

The Cleggs’ lawyer sent Helmer a cease-and-desist letter several weeks ago, but he never responded.

Helmer said he got the letter but calls it a “scare tactic” he intends to ignore. He said that he and Spicer were in talks with the Cleggs about opening a Lawrence franchise but that they only spent a couple of hours in the Springfield and Norman stores. He said he and Spicer began looking at real estate in Lawrence when they were considering opening the franchise there but learned that there’s already a Hurtz Donut in Lawrence, owned by a man who sells doughnuts at farmers markets. Helmer said the landlord didn’t want to lease to them in case there was trouble over the naming rights. They decided instead to open their own doughnut business in Wichita, Helmer said.

“There was just too much shady stuff going on,” Helmer said. “We decided we were going to come up with our own name and do our own thing.”

Kas Clegg, meanwhile, said that she heard from that landlord in Lawrence this week, who said he still wants to rent to them. Her Hurts Donut name is trademarked.

Spicer and Kas Clegg, who grew up in Valley Center, knew each other for years. She worked for him off and on for 11 years when he owned Wichita’s Chalet, a bar that operated at 3030 Penstemon. She considered him a close friend, she said, and even mentioned him as a major influence when she received the Springfield woman-owned start-up business of the year award in 2014.

Helmer said he’s had trouble with the company installing equipment at the new space but should be able to open Smarts Doughnut in a couple of months. (There’s a sign on the building already that says “Doughnut” with a backwards ‘n’.) He’d originally planned to open in early May.

He said he came up with the Smarts name when he was looking for a space in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas. He’s considering setting up educational programs with schools once he opens.

The menu, he said, will include classic doughnuts, doughnuts with fancy toppings and fillings plus items like kolaches.

Hurts Donut offers classic doughnuts, doughnuts with fancy toppings and fillings plus items like kolaches. Its grand opening starts Monday morning at 6 a.m.

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