By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — What started as a simple rescue mission for nine Clare police officers has turned into breakout business success.
The nine officers, who made up Clare’s entire police force, learned that a longtime bakery and doughnut shop in their hometown was about to close. So they joined forces and bought the business in 2009.
Today it is called Cops & Doughnuts and is drawing customers from all over the world. The company also has rolled out other shops, called “precincts,” in Ludington, Gaylord, Bay City and South Bend, Indiana.
This summer, a fifth precinct is expected to open in Mt. Pleasant, according to Alan “Bubba” White, vice president of the Cops & Doughnuts chain.
In addition, the company’s seven delivery vehicles, called “paddy wagons,” deliver doughnuts to display cases in about 100 other retailers.
White is one of the original owners of Cops & Doughnuts. The other eight officers are still involved in the business. No new partners have been brought in, White said.
He and one other owner-officer have retired. The others are still on the force.
But while the owners have stayed the same, the business has not. Today, the main shop, “the headquarters,” employs 63 people, White said, and the entire corporation employs 180 people.
The customer base also is growing. The Clare shop has attracted customers from as far away as Thailand, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand, White said. It is the police story that draws them in.
“We don’t sell doughnuts,” White said over coffee in the busy Clare shop. “We sell cops’ doughnuts.”
White said the previous owners of the Clare bakery, founded in 1896, were ringing up about $86,000 a year in gross sales.
These days, just the annual payroll at Cops & Doughnuts is more than $1 million, he said.
“And that’s just the Clare store,” White said. “That’s money not being stashed in the Cayman Islands. It stays here.”
Staying as local as possible is important, he said.
The doughnuts and other bakery items, for example, are made with ingredients from Dawn Food Products Inc. in Jackson and Gordon Food Service in Wyoming, Michigan, he said. Cops & Doughnuts’ three specially blended coffees are produced by Paramount Coffee Co. in Lansing.
The stores also sell mugs, clothing and a variety of items, most of which are cop-related.
“Nearly everything we sell is Michigan-made or American-made,” White said.
That’s all part of the company’s efforts to support the communities where it does business, he said.
“The thing about us, we truly believe, the more you give the more comes back to you,” White said.
At all of its locations, Cops & Doughnuts is involved in community groups, sports and activities, he said.
Longtime customers Laura Ahac and Jason Dole, owners of the No Limit Screen Printing business in Clare, say they have been coming to the Cops & Doughnuts shop in Clare since it opened. They like the food and are frequent lunch customers. They say they also like the friendly atmosphere and the free WiFi.
“I think this is the only place in Clare you can bring your computer and sit for hours and hours and it never bothers any of the employees,” Ahac said. “We can be here all day.”
Dole says he appreciates the shop’s vibe. “It’s always upbeat.”
Melissa Mills of Clare, who moved from Frankfurt, Germany, four years ago, has worked at Cops & Doughnuts for about two years. She is a supervisor and often can be found working behind the display cases of colorful doughnuts and pastries.
“I love it here,” she said during a break. “You don’t feel pressure at all. Everyone is like a big family here. That makes working here really easy.”
Cops & Doughnuts’ Ludington shop opened in 2016 at the site of the McDonald’s Bakery, which had been a local institution since 1889.
“They’ve done a great job preserving that heritage,” said Heather Tykoski, Ludington’s community development director.
The chain’s move into Ludington “has been extremely positive,” Tykoski said. “They dove in and became very active in the community.”
Since opening in Ludington, Cops & Doughnuts has sponsored and participated in a variety of community events, she said.
The doughnut shop is close to the Lake Michigan dock where the S.S. Badger car ferry comes and goes, she said, so a lot of passengers stop at the shop while on their way.
The busy doughnut shop also is spurring other development in the area, Tykoski said. “It builds that interest,” she said.
Cops & Doughnuts’ presence in Clare also has helped drive development in that community, said Pam O’Laughlin, executive director of the 209-member Clare Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Cops & Doughnuts has been a benefit to our community in a multitude of ways,” O’Laughlin said.
Before the doughnut shop opened, she said, downtown Clare had a lot of empty storefronts.
“Now we have just one,” she said.
The number of visitors to the downtown area has steadily increased since the doughnut shop opened, rising to an estimated 1.2 million last year, she said.
“It’s probably tripled the amount to traffic,” she said.