This stretch of the Hempstead Turnpike between the Meadowbrook and Wantagh parkways is lined with fast-food restaurants, strip malls and the occasional office building. If not for the Long Island accents and the crazy driving, you'd think you were on one of the more congested stretches of our own Berlin Turnpike.
That may explain why Mike Dillon of South Windsor has spent the past three months living out of a hotel and working, happily, at the local Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store. He's a manager-in-training, and his first assignment is going to be one of those new Connecticut Krispy Kreme outlets.
Dillon doesn't know if he'll be working at the Newington store, which opens Tuesday on the Berlin Turnpike, or at the Milford location, which is scheduled to open next month on Route 1. But he's definitely psyched to be on the Krispy Kreme team.
"I get so excited, I've got to calm myself down sometimes," he says with a smile nearly as bright as his Krispy Kreme golf shirt. "It's a great thing."
Connecticut doughnut lovers certainly agree.
Given all the advance fuss, you'd think the arrival of Krispy Kreme in Connecticut, which is also the first foray by the North Carolina-based company into New England, was on a par with the Second Coming.
Perhaps for some it is. One recent caller to Brad Davis' radio show on WDRC-AM (1360) was so enraptured by Krispy Kreme doughnuts that she compared the experience to the Blessed Sacrament.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts get that kind of reaction.
"We get some 7,000 e-mails a month from customers telling us their Krispy Kreme experiences," says Brooke Smith, a company spokeswoman. "Some are recounting memories of going every Sunday with their grandfather after church or taking dates there on Friday nights. What customers tell us is not only about the doughnuts but also the experiences they've had there."
Smith says the adulation never becomes routine.
"It continues to amaze us that customers have such a great level of excitement and enthusiasm," she says.
Well, maybe some do.
Certainly Helene Fico of Glen Oaks, N.Y., couldn't quite believe a Connecticut food writer would drive all the way to Long Island for a doughnut.
"I was more excited about Wal-Mart," she admits.
Yet, for Fico and her two kids, this trip to the East Meadow Krispy Kreme is also a milestone. It's their first time inside the store. Usually, they buy their Krispy Kremes at gas stations or other outlets.
"Because you get a chance for a hot one," Fico says.
Ahhh. A hot one.
Hot is Hot
Krispy Kreme's considerable reputation has been built on serving hot, just-fried doughnuts.
Every store with the capability to make its own doughnuts in-house has a neon sign in the window. It reads "Hot Now." To devotees, that's shorthand for only one thing: the "Original Glazed" Krispy Kreme doughnut is in production.
"Many customers look for that light," Smith says. "They see it and go in and get one hot off the line."
That, she says, is the "experience" Krispy Kreme wants neophytes to enjoy first.
"The hot doughnut experience is what Krispy Kreme is really all about," she says. "We want customers to have the novel hot doughnut experience."
Company statistics back her up. Wilson Camelo, a spokesman for The Jan Companies, the Rhode Island-based owner of the Krispy Kreme franchise for Connecticut, says 95 percent of customers whose first Krispy Kreme is a hot one will return, while only 50 percent return if that first doughnut is cold.
That would be no surprise to Kathleen Purvis, food editor of the Charlotte Observer newspaper in North Carolina. A born Southerner who grew up around Krispy Kremes, her advice to us Yankees is simple: "Don't eat one more than two hours old."
"You've got to eat fresh," she says. "Fresh is a whole other ballgame. When the `hot' sign is on, go in and buy a dozen. Eat two right there. When fresh, it's like eating air covered with sugar."
Purvis warns people away from eating a "gas-station Krispy Kreme." That's what she calls those Krispy Kreme doughnuts sold at other outlets, like gas stations or supermarkets.
A "gas station Krispy" isn't the same, she says. The fluffy doughnut interior turns leaden, and the brittle glaze softens and turns syrupy, she explains.
"My son is 9 years old, and he has already learned to never buy a gas-station Krispy Kreme," Purvis says proudly. "There's a reason for that sign."
Krispy Kreme doughnuts are certainly hot with the public. The company produces about 5 million doughnuts a day and more than 2 billion a year, according to Krispy Kreme statistics.
The company is proud of its production, boasting that enough doughnuts are produced in one week to make a line of doughnuts from New York City to Los Angeles, or that Krispy Kreme stores can produce enough doughnuts in 2 minutes to make a stack equal the height of the Empire State building.
Krispy Kreme started small and humble.
The official company history tells the story of Vernon Carver Rudolph, who in 1933 bought a doughnut shop in Paducah, Ky., from a French chef from New Orleans. He also got the rights to a secret yeast-raised doughnut recipe.
Rudolph moved the operation to Nashville and in 1937 to Winston-Salem, N.C. With just $25, the secret recipe and a few pieces of doughnut machinery, Rudolph and two friends opened for business on July 13, 1937. At first, they focused on selling doughnuts to local grocery stores, but the demand grew so great from people stopping by asking for hot ones that Rudolph cut a hole in the wall and began selling directly to them.
Krispy Kreme prospered and began to grow. It wasn't until 1995, however, that Krispy Kreme became more than a Southern phenomenon. It was in that year that the first Krispy Kreme store outside the Southeast opened, in Indianapolis. A year later, the first Krispy Kreme store opened in New York City, and in 1999, the first West Coast store opened in the Los Angeles area. Krispy Kreme went international last December with the opening of a Canadian store outside Toronto.
There are now about 237 stores in 34 states and Canada, the company says.
While Krispy Kreme is poised to become the latest craze in Connecticut, Purvis says the doughnuts aren't a particularly big deal in the South.
"Krispy Kreme used to be one of those things found in older areas of town," she says. "It has a lot more cachet than it used to."
For Purvis, Krispy Kreme was always the place to go after the bars closed.
"They were the only things open at 3 in the morning. They were not fancy stores on the nice side of town. It was a working-class thing," she says.
Still, don't diss Krispy Kreme within earshot of Purvis. She's still annoyed at Jane and Michael Stern, the Connecticut-based food writers, for taking shots.
"They said how bad it was, and I got mad," she says. "Comparing a Krispy Kreme doughnut to a cake doughnut is like comparing a polo pony to a rodeo horse. They are not the same thing.
"To me, a Krispy Kreme is not a doughnut. It is a round cloud with a hole in it."Copyright © 2015, CT Now