For years, Howard and Sharon Robinson talked about opening a restaurant. But the couple never moved forward with the dream.
"My wife and I had always heard that a large percentage of restaurants closed in the first year, and we didn't want that to happen to us,'' he said.
Then shoulder surgery 18 months ago forced Robinson, 55, to leave his job delivering medical equipment. The couple revisited the idea and decided to try their own business.
"We narrowed it down to opening some sort of coffee shop," he said. "We asked ourselves if coffee worked for Starbucks, why can't we make it work for us?''
In early October, the Robinsons opened Gram's Old-Fashioned Donuts at 11987 Indian Rocks Road. The business, located in the 2,000-square-foot storefront that formerly held Jim's Meat Market, is a family endeavor, Robinson said.
To get started, the couple and their adult children — Sonya Massey, Stephanie Reed, Angela Romanski and Michael Robinson — made an initial investment of $155,000.
Gram's is named after Howard and Sharon's mothers, both deceased. The shop includes nine tables and a wooden bar that seats six.
"I want people to come in and forget about the outside world," he said. "Somebody came in the other day and told me they felt they were in Mayberry. That's what I'm going for.''
So far, the business is averaging $400 in sales each day. The busiest time is between 9 and 10 a.m. when about 30 customers are served.
"On one hand, my wife's family was in the bakery business in Michigan, so we were comfortable with what we were getting into,'' Robinson said. "But on the other hand, I myself do not come from a business background, so we are flying by the seat of our pants much of the time.''
For customer Jim Bracewell, it's all about location.
"Before they opened, to get a fresh doughnut, I'd have to go all the way down to Lighthouse Doughnuts on Indian Rocks Beach,'' he said. "I'll be a return customer.''
Customer Dale Schmidt of Belleair agreed.
"I've loved everything I've had here — red velvet cake doughnuts, frosted chocolate and the apple fritters are amazing," she said. "My advice to them is to keep expanding their creations. There's no place like it nearby.''
Robinson, a lifelong resident of Largo, considered opening his business downtown. "But the rent in downtown was more expensive, and it is easier for people to park here,'' he said.
Each morning, he starts making the batter, a family recipe, at 1 a.m. He makes about 60 dozen doughnuts a day.
"I collapse by 5:30 or 6 p.m.," he said. "I've never worked so hard in my life.''
Offerings include both traditional doughnuts, like glazed and Bavarian cream, as well as more unusual offerings, like a peanut butter and jelly filled doughnut.
While still wary of the failure rate for first-time entrepreneurs, Robinson considers Gram's less risky than other endeavors.
"I now see that in this economy," he said, "a shop like this does well because coffee and doughnuts can be a poor man's luxury.''