Country Style Donuts a Sweet Institution
Any morning, except Monday, you can find a crowd of regulars seated at the counter of Country Style Donuts in eastern Henrico County. The mix of retired patrons and on-the-way-to-workers say, in between doughnuts and sips of hot coffee, that they wouldn't miss a morning.
"We might as well have assigned seats," said Pat Maxey, a retired federal government employee who takes her place on a counter stool facing the front window. "I don't like to miss anything."
They talk about family, politics and taxes, and they share jokes. On Mondays, when Country Style is closed, they're on their own.
"We drive around or just sit out in the parking lot thinking about doughnuts," joked longtime customer Ron Dickerson, a retired A.H. Robins employee who once raised fleas for the company's Sargeant pet products division. His personal doughnut preference: "plain and old-fashioned."
This is the way it's been for decades at Country Style Donuts, which opened in 1968 on Williamsburg Road, a major east-west thoroughfare before the construction of Interstate 64.
Located in a small building about three miles west of Richmond International Airport, Country Style Donuts' loyal followers come for the 38 doughnut varieties, ranging from traditional glazed to apple fritters and éclairs. They also come for the friendly atmosphere, they say.
Owner Steve Nassareddine came to the U.S. in the mid-1970s from Lebanon and learned the doughnut trade while working for Dunkin' Donuts. He and his wife, Wafaa, were later part-owners of Golden Donuts on West Main Street near Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Nassareddines bought Country Style Donuts in 1984, and they have made only a few changes, including the addition of three booths to accommodate families. Even some of the signs inside are original with handwritten price updates taped over the old ones.
Up at 3 a.m. six days a week, Wafaa takes the day shift after Steve has finished making doughnuts all night long. Their kitchen is small and unsophisticated with just the essentials: a mixer, proof box (cabinet in which the dough rises), a deep fryer and countertops for sugaring, glazing and filling.
"The price of ingredients went up as the price of gasoline went up," said Wafaa, explaining that most of their supplies come by truck from Maryland. "Then the gas prices went back down, but the supplies prices stayed up." They haven't raised the price of doughnuts -- $4.99 a half-dozen and $6.99 a dozen -- and their customers keep coming back.
In an industry that, according to trade publication Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, sells more than $660 million in doughnuts a year, Country Style Donuts is holding its own.
"Our sales have been steady," Wafaa said, even with the economy's recent dip.
"I grew up a mile from here," customer Betty Ragsdale said as she selected her favorite 12 doughnuts from the bins behind the counter. She lives in New Kent but returns for doughnuts, especially the Boston cream. Ragsdale is one of many customers who buy for work and for family. Wafaa said dozens of doughnuts go to offices, and then the customers and their co-workers return with their families for more.
Dean MacGuigan, a resident of nearby Fulton Hill, considers Country Style Donuts to be his neighborhood doughnut shop.
"There are always three or four cars in front, and it's because they're the best. The fudge topping has got a really fudge-fresh taste, and as for my favorite, the Bavarian cream filling, they just nail it. They are perhaps the greatest doughnuts on Earth. I've been known to wolf down three at a time."
In uncertain economic times, the Nassareddines might worry like most small-business owners, but Wafaa is encouraged that there is vigorous commercial development in the vicinity of Williamsburg Road and Laburnum Avenue.
"The area is growing," she said. "There are more people and new people stopping by. We've been here so long it's like everybody seems like a family," Wafaa said as she pours a cup of coffee. "You can never get rich by selling doughnuts, but we are living comfortably."