CHICO — My heart (and my sweet tooth) hurt a little bit this week when I saw that Krispy Kreme on Business Lane had closed. My husband and I actually pulled into the drive-through lane and discovered there was no menu. And the restaurant was empty. That was our clue. Enter sadness.
But then I visited all three of the independent doughnut shops in Chico on the advice of my boss, and I’m happy three such great businesses exist and are independently owned and operated.
On Thursday, I stopped into Donut Nook at 958 East Avenue (Suite A) and spoke with employee Keith Carlson, who has superb customer skills. I had driven past Donut Nook many times but am ashamed to say I hadn’t been a customer before, since I loved Krispy Kreme and would stop there sometimes on my way back from Oroville.
Donut Nook has been in business for 45 years. Carlson said the shop’s specialty donut is the chocolate chip square. One of the truly great things about Donut Nook is that it is open 24 hours. I mentioned my beloved Krispy Kreme to Carlson, and he made a face in response.
“I didn’t even consider Krispy Kreme to be competition,” said Carlson.
I understood that when I bit into a Donut Nook chocolate glazed doughnut, which was mouth-wateringly fluffy and delicious. Forget Krispy Kreme. End scene.
Donut Nook is owned by Joe Del Carlo. Carlson said the busiest time of day is between 4 and 8 a.m., and the shop stays busy all day. It accepts cash only.
Carlson said the recipes have been made from scratch for all of the 45 years. There is a window customers can peer into to see the doughnuts being made in the kitchen.
“We make all of the icing and glaze from scratch,” he said.
Donut Nook is currently hiring. Interested applicants must visit the shop to apply.
On Friday, I stopped over at Donut Wheel, located at 2404 Esplanade, and spoke with the owner, Charlie Phy. He told me Donut Wheel opened at the end of 2017.
Phy said the most popular item on the menu is the apple fritter. He also said people like the ham and cheese roll, which is made on fluffy and delicious-looking jalapeno bread.
Phy was very humble. When I asked him why someone should eat at the Donut Wheel instead of the other shops, he said he likes supporting all of the doughnut shops and doesn’t feel the need to be competitive.
I thought the doughnuts at Donut Wheel were pretty delicious, too. I tried a glaze doughnut and a chocolate glaze. I was supposed to bring one of them home to my husband. Oops.
Phy did say he’s heard from customers that the shop is their favorite and has the most variety. The Donut Wheel bakes the doughnuts on site. When I took a picture of Phy, a bunch of customers who obviously know him well teased him about getting his photo taken.
The Donut Wheel is open from 4:30 a.m. to noon every day.
My last stop was at Helen’s Donut Nook, located at 807 Main St. (Helen’s Donut Nook is not related to the Donut Nook.) Helen’s is open every day from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The employee there recommended I talk to Wayne Yeh, whose parents own the shop. Yeh said the shop is named after the original owner.
Helen’s has a long history in Chico. It opened in 1970. Yeh’s parents took it over in 1993.
He said the old fashioned doughnuts are the most popular. The doughnuts are baked on the premises.
Yeh said part of what makes the shop special is it’s located in the downtown Chico area and is near Chico State, so a lot of locals and students frequent the shop.
“It’s also convenient for folks from the south of Chico to visit,” he said; people travel in from Durham and make a pit stop at Helen’s.
Helen’s also sells doughnuts wholesale to, for example, convenience stores and delivers to Chico State as well. Yeh and his brothers are helping their parents out as much as they can with the business.
Yeh said that parking is difficult for customers who want to park near the doughnut shop, and some people have commented they want to stop in but it’s really difficult to find parking and there is a lot of traffic.
Yeh said his parents have reached out to the city to see if they could install a 10-15 minute temporary parking zone in front of the shop, but haven’t received a reply back.
“My brothers and I are helping as much as we can,” Yeh said. “We’re working on plans and getting an approval.”
I wasn’t able to taste the doughnuts at Helen’s because I gave my two doughnuts to some homeless people sitting near the shop. I like to give homeless people food instead of money. I’m sure Helen’s doughnuts are excellent, too!
Jennie Blevins writes a business column every week. To submit ideas or suggestions or ask questions, email her at email@example.com.
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