Let me ask you this. When you think of getting a donut, is your first thought a convenience store or a Dunkin’ Donuts? Old-school donut shops are still around, but you have to look carefully for them. Why was Dunkin’ Donuts so successful in cornering the market?

The answer is not the donuts. It’s the coffee.

William Rosenberg Dunkin' Donuts

William Rosenberg

According to Bob Rosenberg, his father William Rosenberg — Founder of Dunkin’ Donuts — had no desire to compete with small donut shops. In fact, they were hardly on his radar. His target was set on convenience stores that were selling coffee. Coffee turns over much faster than donuts. When you see an ad that touts America Runs on Dunkin’, they’re not taking about sugar. They’re talking about caffeine.

Even back in 1965, coffee was 60% of Dunkin’ Donuts sales.  And while Starbucks may reign supreme as the coffeehouse of choice, for a long time it was Dunkin’ Donuts. They paid meticulous care to the quality of their coffee and additives like real cream.

They charged customers for the quality, too. This was back in the day when only a few places knew the intricacies of making quality coffee. And we have to say their devotion to quality coffee is still earning them kudos. The American Customer Satisfaction Index, which rates restaurant quality, still rates Dunkin’ Donuts as the best chain coffee shops, even above Starbucks. And yet they only have about half of the number of stores compared to Starbucks.


But does that mean that the old style of donut shop is dead? Are we destined for chains that put coffee over pastry? No, but it does mean they have to work a lot harder to get attention. If you look at the menu offerings at independent donut shops, you see two main varieties. The first goes for classic donuts and the other goes for more experimental twists on donuts. The boundary is a little slippery. One thing they both share though is an emphasis on high quality.

Old School Donut

A great location to find this quality is in Southern California, a place that is known for a strong donut culture and a place where Dunkin’ Donuts feared to tread until 2014. That’s saying a lot for a company that’s been around since the 1960s. Despite the inroads, California donuts are still everywhere and independent donut shops still make a profit.

Most major cities still have a handful of independent donut shops. Take Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta. They were smart and set up right across the street from the Georgia Tech campus. Their slogan is “Eat One that’s Worth It”, a direct challenge to all of the chain donut locations. The owner, Kamal Grant, got his baking inspiration from, of all things, a Dunkin’ Donuts executive visiting his school. After a stint in the Navy and in culinary school, he stumbled upon a for lease sign at a closed down donut shop. Now it’s one of the most popular independent donut shops in Atlanta.

One of the more famous independent shops, now with four shops, a food cart, and a location in Taiwan (!) is Voodoo Doughnuts. They have 90 different types of donuts, made 24 hours a day, and they only take cash. And some of the flavors are pretty crazy. Check out their full list here.

So if you’re looking for a quality shop that isn’t part of a huge chain, you’ll have to do some digging. But if you’re lucky, you can still find a shop that puts care into their donuts more than the coffee.