Johnson City, which once offered its residents almost no options for coffee and fresh doughnuts, now has a variety of choices. (Photo Illustration Ken Walters, Photos Dave Boyd and Tony Duncan)
A few years ago, someone in Johnson City would be hard-pressed to find a coffee spot with a fresh doughnut. Oh, how things change.
Now there are almost a half-dozen donut shops for breakfast eaters to get their sweet fix.
Krispy Kreme’s bright red “hot and fresh” sign still lights up throughout the day as fresh donuts are rolled out, but there are other choices spread around the city, too.
Krispy Kreme came around just a few years ago, and store manager Mike Rose has been there the entire time. He doesn’t see the other donut shops in the area as competition, but says he’s always happy to have people come in the door and report they’ve tried other donuts and put his on the top of the list.
Rose said having East Tennessee State University so close to his spot on West Market Street makes for both good business and good employees, with a handful of students working for him. Krispy Kreme’s corporation, already established in Kingsport, was looking at property in Johnson City and decided to go for it.
Business has been good and consistent for Krispy Kreme, the way Rose likes it.
It’s one of the staple places to get a donut in the South, but the Donut House is more of a West Coast establishment, said owner Danny Kea, who opened the doors to his business just about six months ago.
Kea lives and breathes donuts.
He wakes up early, and is mixing the dough for his doughnuts at 1 a.m. almost every morning of the week. He promises that even though he might not be open in those early hours, if a customer is driving by and sees the lights on, they can knock on the door and Kea will find them something — that’s the kind of customer service he promotes and the way he likes to do business.
Kea has been making doughnuts for more than 30 years now, having started this endeavor in 1983 in California. Seeing an opportunity for a successful spot in Johnson City, he brought along his idea to make a bigger, better doughnut that he could sell cheaper and tastier than his competitors.
How does he pull this off, you ask? He’d tell you it’s all about the quality of the doughnut and his customer service.
“I didn’t see any West Coast doughnuts over here, and I knew what I had was unlike anything here,” Kea said.
A man had recently come in to calibrate his cooking appliances and told him how much a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut weighs, about 3.5 ounces, which is the weight of Kea’s doughnuts before the frying and glazing. This brings his doughnut’s weight up to about three times Krispy Kreme’s. This is a prime example of how his product is bigger, better and less expensive, Kea says.
Variety is another strong point at the Donut House, Kea said.
“We have over 30 varieties in the case, and could get 500 more if we want,” Kea said, sometimes choosing to cycle in new flavors depending on his customers’ needs.
It looks like Kea’s positive attitude is paying off — he says he’s heard of people coming in after cheerful reviews on online restaurant-grading sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon.
Another West Coast doughnut maker making waves in the area is K Country Donuts, with locations in Kingsport and Gray, which opened up about a month ago. Manager David Wood said he, like Kea, also has decades of experience making West Coast-styled doughnuts, and his own special varieties.
Aside from all homemade doughnuts, which he calls very different from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts, he also serves cupcakes and breakfast items called Kollaches, which are dough-wrapped delicacies. Inside the dough, a customer can choose from several options: ham, sausage or fruit.
You won’t find theses anywhere else, said Wood, who prides himself on serving something of a different style, unlike the others. That’s why he opened in the first place, trying to provide something else to the community. It might not be long, Wood said, before he opens a third location.
Daylight Donuts, with a location on State of Franklin Road, is also another popular choice among local doughnut connoisseurs, offering such varieties as Bear Claws, Bismarks, Long Johns, Pine Cones and traditional glazed, while holding to what they call a unique recipe that boasts qualities of uniquely light and flavorful textures.
Dunkin’ Donuts shops have also popped up locally, with locations coupled with Roadrunner Market gas stations. Coffee and hot chocolate, as well as many doughnut and breakfast sandwich options, grace the chain’s menu, collecting a massive following of loyal fans.