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Dueling doughnuts: Dunkin' Donuts moving in near Fray's Donut House

KENNETH CITY — Rick Grace will still get his usual plain sour cream doughnut every day at locally owned Fray's Donut House, even after a Dunkin' Donuts opens a few hundred feet away.

"This is my home base. I come here every day. I don't even make coffee at home," said the die-hard customer sitting at the speckled Formica counter at Fray's, 4419 66th St. N.

"Dunkin' Donuts is better. America runs on Dunkin' ," argued Dennis Burnam, whose Massachusetts roots make him loyal to the behemoth chain born in Quincy, Mass., in 1950. "I'll still come to this place, too. But it's not going to make it after they move in. Forget about it."

The local shop's new owner, Scott Roberts, and its namesake and founder, Bill Fray, are wary but still confident the fresh, homemade doughnuts and the family feel of Fray's will stand up against Dunkin' Donuts.

"We're like an alcohol-free bar," Fray said. "We're like Cheers. You come in and everybody knows your name."

More than 20 customers keep their own coffee cups under the counter.

"I feel no competition as far as quality, but I can't compete with their advertising budget," Fray said. "El Cap makes a much better burger than McDonald's, but it doesn't sell as many."

A spokesman for Dunkin' Donuts wouldn't speak specifically about the decision to open so close to an existing independent store.

"We believe there is a strong demand for what Dunkin' Donuts offers to its guests: great coffee and delicious food and beverages you can enjoy any time of day, without having to endure long lines or high prices," said public relations manager McCall Gosselin. The Dunkin' Donuts store is expected to open on 66th Street the third quarter of 2012.

• • •

The first Fray's Donut House opened 19 years ago at 5236 16th St. N. Fray also had stores on Fourth Street, 66th Street and Central Avenue, but he closed or sold them after his wife died of cancer 12 years ago. He took a job with an engineering firm but missed the doughnut business. When he married his high school sweetheart from Michigan five years ago, she encouraged him to open the store on 66th Street.

Ironically, it was a Dunkin' Donuts for a while at the turn of the century. When that closed, the space was revamped as a Fusion Grill.

That didn't last long, and Fray took over the lease about five years ago, renovating the space to be an old-fashioned doughnut shop. He added a glass window, so customers could watch his older brother, Ronnie Fray, roll out the dough and cut the doughnuts by hand.

Roberts, who worked in higher education in Pennsylvania, bought the 66th Street store in July, but Fray is staying on a while to show him the ropes.

"It seems wrong that (Dunkin' Donuts) would come right next door," Roberts said. "My game plan is to be the best Fray's Donut House we can be."

It remains to be seen how the Dunkin' Donuts store will create its sweets. Gosselin said some stores make doughnuts on site, others get them from a central bakery serving several stores and some bake frozen doughnuts in a convection oven at the store. No matter where they are baked, all doughnuts are decorated by hand at each store.

The company, which had been owned by a private equity group since 2006, made an initial public offering in July, selling 22.25 million shares.

Fray will open another Fray's Donut House at 3832 Tyrone Blvd. in November. He opened and then sold another store at Park Boulevard and 49th Street in the past two years.

"My plan is to bring back the mom-and-pop operator and for each store to become a part of that community," he said.

• • •

The 66th Street store does about $600,000 a year in sales, cranking out 250 dozen doughnuts on a slow summer day and 400 dozen a day in the winter. Its repertoire includes more than 100 varieties with 45 to 50 different kinds of doughnuts in the case each day. One that's always there is the house specialty: a honey-dipped doughnut made with clover honey. Each kind of doughnut contains no preservatives, no corn syrup and no trans fat.

Fray's doughnuts also are sold at several gas stations in the area. About 20 percent are left over at the end of each day and delivered to St. Vincent de Paul Food Center and other soup kitchens the next day.

Bill Fray, 58, has worked in or owned doughnut stores off and on for 39 years.

"I cut my first doughnut in New London, Conn., in 1972, and I was mesmerized by it," he said.

Fray was on a 30-day leave from the Navy and passed a doughnut shop where he watched a baker through the window. The baker invited him in to make a doughnut. Fray worked there for free for the next month to learn the trade.

Two years later, when he was discharged from the Navy, Fray got a job as a store manager in Coldwater, Mich. In the mid '70s, he ran three Mister Donut stores in South Florida. He came to St. Petersburg several years later and ran a few Dunkin' Donuts and other independent shops before opening his own.

"I love the doughnut business," he said. "When you finish your production, and you look at that doughnut case, you think: I did that."

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@sptimes.com.

Dueling doughnuts: Dunkin' Donuts moving in near Fray's Donut House 08/23/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 1:32pm]
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