Police-owned doughnut shop banks on its sense of humor
For the Clare Police Department, cops solving problems with doughnuts is standard operating procedure.
“What solves a problem better than a doughnut?” said Clare Police Chief Brian Gregory, one of nine owners of Cops & Doughnuts in downtown Clare. “Nothing I know of.”
For the last five years, Cops & Doughnuts has become internationally known as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in mid-Michigan. Owned exclusively by police officers, the business shells out sweets like parking tickets while fully embracing the stereotypes and clichés surrounding cops.
“We sometimes have to use our humor to our advantage,” Gregory said. “We’ve been to places where there’s a family fight going on. We’ll hand out free doughnut cards and say ‘Dad, you take off, and Mom, here’s three doughnut cards. Why don’t you take them down to the bakery? And bam (it’s resolved).”
The joke is one that its president Greg Rynearson and vice president Alan White, know all too well. The recently retired police officers have heard it all – and then some. But these are small town cops with even smaller egos; they crack on themselves with customers, poking fun at their own authority without becoming the butt of the joke in the process.
Don’t Glaze Me Bro
Walking into the store, patrons are greeted by smiling faces and an overwhelming array of crullers, bear claws, and shop specialties like the Bacon Squealer or the Felony Apple Fritter. The creative confectionaries don’t stop there – the store also sells pies, cookies and cakes.
The Bacon Squealer is a tasty doughnut topped with maple frosting and bacon. Pork and its negative connotation to the police is a theme here too: A diner section to the left serves BBQ sandwiches, positively identified as the “Traffic Stop Lunch.”
Laying it on thick is Cops & Doughnuts’ objective, as thick as the icing on a hot cinnamon roll, and the store’s gift shop capitalizes the owners’ sense of humor. Each piece has a different doughnut-cop related slogan on it. Some say “Don’t Glaze Me Bro.” Another says “Cuffed and Stuffed.” Its signature item, however, is the swimwear: Speedo’s, bikinis and shorts emblazoned with “D.W.I.: Doughnuts Were Involved” on the rear.
All of the jokes are created in-house, Rynearson said, with each officer or family member contributing a quip.
Police work can take a heavy toll on a person, according to Cops & Doughnuts’ top brass. In many ways, they’re happy to be out of the business. Nobody calls a cop for help when they’re having a good day. For them, the store and its comedic tone is a departure from the scrutiny found in headlines across American news media.
“Our story is unique, but it’s nothing I don’t think police officers all over – if they had the opportunity – would try and do to give back to the community,” Gregory said. “Especially in light of what’s going on today. I look at these young officers and think ‘are there going to be young officers, good young police officers wanting to get into this line of work now with everything that’s going on?”
Stories like the one behind Cops & Doughnuts show cops are just like the people they protect.
“Just like every other job, you’re going to have bad cops,” he said. “Unfortunately that makes stories and it’s sad. One unfortunate thing about our job is that not everybody wants to do police work. Not everyone can be (one), but you have to make decisions, and sometimes you fail. Sometimes you make the wrong decision. It affects them personally.
“I know people who have been involved in situations like that they’ve been right, and it still affects them for the rest of their lives.”
Upholding their oath
Founded in 2009 by the nine full-time members of the Clare Police Department, the store was once known as the Clare City Bakery. Rivaled only by the Doherty Hotel, which opened in 1924, the downtown shop has been a staple in the city since 1896. During the 2008 recession, small businesses throughout Clare were starting to go under, a sight that rocked Rynearson and White to the core.
Both men grew up in Clare and have dedicated almost all of their adult lives to the pursuit of protecting the town of more than 3,000. When they heard that the bakery was the next in line to fail, Rynearson and White went to work like detectives investigating a crime scene.
The rumors were true. They had to intervene.
Within two weeks they purchased the store, changing only the name to reflect its new management.
City Manager Ken Hibl said the outrageousness of the name was not lost on the citizens of Clare, but some were apprehensive.
“There were questions in some minds about what cops were doing running a bakery,” Hibl said. “I think everyone was mostly in favor of seeing the bakery stay open.”
On the first day of business, the local media came to cover the grand opening. On the second, the Associated Press came calling. As White got done with the interview, the reporter uttered prophetic words, “I think your lives are about to change.”
The cops were overnight celebrities, courting appearances on “Fox & Friends” and Food Network competitions. They were even invited to England to help officers improve relations between the public and the police. They did it in pure Cops & Doughnuts style, shipping over two pallets of doughnuts and coffee, and handing them out for free.
Tour groups became such a regular occurrence that Rynearson created a pin board map so each patron could mark where they came from. The board filled up fast, and they had to create a computer system to log new visitors.
Originally taking up one storefront at 521 N. McEwan St., the venerable headquarters dedicated to the worship of decadent pastries soon expanded into three.
In the land of cake and coffee
In the early morning, the city is sugar buzzing because of Cops & Doughnuts. Getting there is easy – Clare is located off of U.S. 127, just 17 miles north of Mount Pleasant. Look for the blue and white building on your left, the one with a pink-frosted doughnut hanging above its doorstep.
If you pass it, don’t worry because you can smell it down the street. The fragrant waft of fried dough and sacchariferous frosting is punctuated by the aroma of night-shift strong coffee hanging heavily in the air.
The notoriety of the store may not have saved the city by itself, but it definitely helped. By serving their community, as cops or as bakers, the officers see their work as continuing the oath they took when put on the badge.
“If there aren’t other businesses, we all suffer because of it. This year, we’re going to have over 500,000 people go through our three storefronts,” Rynearson said. “We have to have a strong community. The stronger the community, the stronger we are.”
Hibl agrees that the store has done a great deal of good for the community, even if its endowment has been silly at best.
“From the city perspective, I think it’s been a catalyst,” Hibl said. “It anchored the downtown, steadied it, and other businesses that might have closed didn’t.”
When things do turn somber, the cops are still there for those who need them. One year, a Mount Pleasant woman brought her son by the shop looking for help. The boy’s father hit him after a fight between his parents, Rynearson said. He was afraid to go to Mount Pleasant police – the boy only felt comfortable talking to the officers at Cops & Doughnuts.
Seriousness aside, Rynearson and White want to make their customers belly-ache with laughter and healthy dose of sugar. So the next time you see cops on the street, go ahead and give them a Boston Crème, or two, or five. Continue the joke, and if they get offended, make sure you tell him you got them in Clare.