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VOL. 121 | NO. 69 | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sale of Howard's Donuts Changes Name, Not Inventory

By Andrew Ashby

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ACE IN THE (DOUGHNUT) HOLE: Businessman Pimol Sam recently bought Howard's Donuts at 1776 Union Ave. and changed the name to Donald's Donuts. -- Photograph By Andrew Ashby

The name has changed, but the donuts stay the same.

Howard's Donuts, a Memphis landmark at 1776 Union Ave., officially changed to Donald's Donuts earlier this month. Businessman Pimol Sam bought the 2,000-square-foot Union Avenue store in July and recently switched the signage.

Gregory Howard opened the first Howard's Donuts at 1711 N. Missouri St. in West Memphis in the early 1970s. He bought the store as a Harlow's Donuts franchise, but after the company closed down in 1982, he changed the store to Howard's Donuts.

All in the family

Howard went on to have six or seven locations over the years, said his son, John. Howard sold them all except for the West Memphis location, which now is owned by another son, David.

David Howard opened a Howard's Donuts on Madison Avenue that closed around 1988. He also took over the store at 1776 Union Ave. when it closed as a Dunkin' Donuts in 1987. In 1996, John bought the Union store and ran it until last April.

John's brother-in-law, Daniele Zanella, got into the act, buying a Howard's Donuts at Waring Road and Summer Avenue from Gregory in the 1982. Zanella also runs the Howard's Donuts at 8968 U.S. Highway 64, which he opened in 2004.

"I was kind of skeptical when I saw the sign change - I wasn't sure if it was still a donut place or not. The only thing I noticed had changed was the name; the donuts are still the same."
- Charlie Bramlett
A regular customer at Donald's (formerly Howard's) Donuts on Union Avenue

Sam got into the donut business when he bought a Donald's Donuts store near Houston in 1999. He sold that store in 2005 and moved to Memphis to buy the Howard's store on Union. Sam also opened a 1,400-square-foot Donald's Donut store at 5144 Riverdale Road March 16.

"I just wanted a change," Sam said. "There were too many donut shops in Texas and there aren't too many in Memphis. You can get more business."

Sam said he liked the Union Avenue location because of heavy traffic.

"It's good for a donut shop," Sam said. "It's been busy."

Making the dough

The workload was one reason John Howard sold the Union Avenue store. He couldn't reconcile his time between the Midtown and Cordova stores.

"I was running back and forth, all day long, every day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day," John said. "The consequence was that I was letting the Union store kind of go down. I didn't like that and I didn't want that to happen."

Splitting time between the two stores was difficult because the work is so hard.

"It's a difficult business, being up at midnight to make donuts for the morning, and most people don't want to do it," John said. "That's the bottom line."

John and his crew start about midnight and have fresh donuts by 4 a.m. at their 8130 Bellevue Parkway location in Cordova.

"It doesn't matter if you're making one donut or a whole bunch, it still takes that amount of time because of the rising time of the dough," John said.

John said he has fond memories of his years at the Union store. He remembers a group of World War II veterans who came in regularly. They called themselves the Slam Dunkers.

"It's pretty sad because in the last 10 years, many of them have passed away," John said. "But they're worth a mention because they came in there for years."

John opened a Howard's Donuts in Cordova in February 2002. When he was planning the store, he didn't know St. Benedict at Auburndale was going to be building a new school right next door.

"Now they call us St. Howard's," he said.

Local resident Charlie Bramlett dropped into the Union store recently for a few donuts. He had been coming to that location since it was a Dunkin' Donuts in the early 1980s. He noticed when the signs changed recently.

"I was kind of skeptical when I saw the sign change - I wasn't sure if it was still a donut place or not," he said. "The only thing I noticed had changed was the name; the donuts are still the same."

PROPERTY SALES 157 157 10,093
MORTGAGES 161 161 11,107
BUILDING PERMITS 229 229 22,402
BANKRUPTCIES 54 54 6,365