ST. PETERSBURG — The "hot now" light is on.
The newest store in the Krispy Kreme chain officially opened at 6 a.m. Thursday at 9100 Fourth St. N.
About 75 people had lined up by the time the doors were unlocked for a chance at free doughnuts. Fifty of the first to enter earned a free dozen every month for a year. The first in line, Richard Coley, 61, will get a free dozen every week for the next 52 weeks.
"I've always enjoyed Krispy Kreme doughnuts," said Coley, who had waited in line since 3 p.m. Wednesday, "and it makes for some variety from my Chick-fil-A."
Coley, who wore a Chick-fil-A T-shirt Thursday morning, eats at the chicken restaurant for free six days a week — a perk he has earned in the course of attending 109 of the chain's openings around the country.
He showed up at Krispy Kreme with just a folding chair, a copy of the spy novel Act of Treason and a rain tarp he never needed.
Other eager customers trickled into line throughout the evening; two more joined the crowd about 3 a.m. Thursday, with most arriving closer to 5 a.m.
When the "hot now" sign lit up at 6 a.m. the crowd cheered as they moved slowly into the store, greeted by the familiar scent of the hot treats.
Owner Bob McCoy, son of the original Florida franchisee who opened the Tampa store in 1952, handed customers certificates for the free monthly dozen as they entered.
"Some places that have never had a Krispy Kreme in their market, they have people camping out for three or four days when a store opens," he said.
Richard Buzzo, second in line, secured his spot at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
"I always liked Krispy Kreme as a kid,'' he said. "My mom and dad would take me over to that one at Central Plaza when I was little."
Coley left the store with a free Krispy Kreme T-shirt and a dozen hot doughnuts to enjoy at home.
He likes the free stuff, of course, but also the camaraderie from grand opening experiences.
It's part of a seven-year routine. Around the time he got cancer and lost his job as a computer technician, Coley vowed to set a fast-food world record.
"Unofficial," he said.
He has traveled the country in his old Geo Metro, determined to attend more Chick-fil-A openings than any other American.
He has made it to 109 in 26 states. He was one of the first 100 people in line in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Flagstaff, Ariz., where he won free meals for a year.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-9795.