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Don’t Eat Too Many Donuts

Americans love donuts (or doughnuts) and, in fact, can be proud that they were invented in the United States (unless you view donuts as a dietary evil, of course).

There is some controversy as to who invented the doughnut, since some historians think the early Dutch settlers in New York invented them, but a young ships cook, Hanson Gregory claims to have invented doughnuts in 1847 when he was only 16. An argument against Gregory is that English cookbooks from 1803 printed doughnut recipes and assigned an American origin to them.

The word donut rather than doughnut came into popular use in the early 1900s.

Canadians eat more donuts per person than Americans. Canada now eats more donuts per person than any other country, and has the most donut shops per person as well, with more than 4,500 donut shops from Tim Hortons alone. In the United States only Providence, Rhode Island, has more donut shops per person than Canada.

Tim Horton founded his first donut and coffee shop in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, while still playing hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played for Toronto for 20 years and a few years each for Pittsburgh and Buffalo. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997, after his automobile accident death in 1974.

In 1967, Horton partnered with Ron Joyce, a local cop, and the two went on to develop the largest fast food chain in Canada. Joyce bought out the Horton estate for $1 million. In 2012, Tim Hortons sold twice as much product as McDonalds, moving beyond donuts and coffee to lunches, breakfasts and pasties of all kinds. But they still sell lots of donuts and coffee. In fact, they account for 76 percent of the bakery goods sold per year in Canada and 62 percent of the coffee sold each year in Canada.

With clever marketing and advertising, Tim Hortons has identified with Canada, and Canadians with it. Tim Hortons is now an important Canadian cultural icon. Somehow, Canadians feel that they can only buy donuts and coffee from Tim Hortons.

From 1992 to 2008, Tim Hortons was part of the Wendys Restaurant organization, and Ron Joyce became a major shareholder of Wendys. Tim Hortons returned to Canadian ownership in 2008, but in 2014 was sold to (or merged with) the Burger King organization under Brazilian ownership. The headquarters of Burger King is expected to move to Ontario, since Tim Hortons is the bigger company.

Dunkin Donuts is the major donut chain in the United States. It began as the Open Kettle in 1948 in Quincy, Massachusetts, operated by William Rosenberg. It changed its name in 1950. Dunkin Donuts first popularized what we now call “donut holes,” calling them “Munchkins,” in 1972. Dunkin Donuts’ growth has been phenomenal, with more than 11,000 shops in 33 countries. Even in the United States, Dunkin Donuts still sells more coffee than Starbucks or McDonalds. In 1989, Dunkin Donuts became part of the English company J Lyons and Company, which in turn joined with the Allied Domecq Company in 1994. In turn, Allied was bought in 2005 by the French company Pernod Ricard, which in turn sold ownership of Dunkin Donuts to the American Bain Capital Group.

So once again, after a journey of 22 years, Dunkin Donuts was an American company.

But Florentines know Krispy Kreme best. Do you watch for the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign? You know the taste and feel as they seem to melt in your mouth?

Krispy Kreme took a circuitous route to our neighborhood. The first shop was opened in 1933 in Paducah, Kentucky, by Vernon Rudolph (so Krispy Kreme is the oldest of our major donut chains), then moved its headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, but it finally settled near us in 1937 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where it remains.

Krispy Kreme is the largest donut chain in the Southeast and still is very popular despite the competition and its recent corporate stumbles. The company was sold in 1976 to Beatrice Foods but returned to private ownership in 1982. Most of its growth outside the Southeast has come since 1990. Krispy Kreme went public in 2000, and its stock soared. Many new stores opened all over the United States. But the company grew too quickly and had to cut back in 2005.

In 2009, Krispy Kreme faced some contrary U.S. regulatory orders because of accounting irregularities. But even so, the company is still doing well under new management. Its revenue in 2013 was $440 million.

Oh, oh … look at the clock. It’s almost time to eat again. Indeed, it’s almost Donut and Coffee Time! Despite what the byline says, no doctor wrote this essay. Just a donut-loving American.

By the way, since I also am a mathematician, the donut is part of a mathematical discipline we call Topology; the donut shape is called a Torus.

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