Dunkin' Donuts ready to make some dough in Houston area [Houston Chronicle]
(Houston Chronicle (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 07--The president of Dunkin' Donuts, U.S. and Canada, was in Houston a few days ago to meet with new franchisees in one of the company's emerging markets.
For a man who is overseeing an aggressive expansion that includes doubling the company's presence here in 2013, with plans to expand far beyond that over the next few years, Paul Twohig seemed pretty mild-mannered.
He even had nice things to say about the competition.
"In Houston, you have a chain that's been here forever, Shipley," he said in a sit-down interview. "I bet there are people who would never think of eating a doughnut anywhere else. Maybe it's because that's where you went with your mom and dad."
Twohig had fond words for the doughnut, too.
"It's a very American thing," he said. "There's almost an emotional attachment to the doughnut."
Food fads may come and go, but the doughnut has staying power. Dunkin', one of the nation's biggest doughnut brands, aims to be a major Houston player.
Five of the stores have opened so far in 2013 -- bringing the local number to 10 -- and two more will debut later this year.
The Canton, Mass.-based company then plans to open as many as 60 over the next five years, said Nathan Pressler, field marketing manager for Dunkin' Brands.
Dunkin' Donuts, which was founded in 1950, is far more established in the Northeast and in cities like Chicago, Twohig said.
Doughnuts of one sort or another are everywhere.
"Just about every country in the world has some sort of doughnut -- it's the universal magic of fried dough," said Kit Yarrow, professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
"They're a highly pleasing shape, you can eat them with your hands and they're relatively cheap," she said.
Plus, it's a social food.
"You buy a box and share," Yarrow said. "You're a superstar if you bring a box to the office."
Fond, sweet memories
Twohig, 60, has childhood memories of going to a Dunkin' Donuts in Brockton, Mass., in the days when they had sit-down counters, "sugar bowls and waitresses," he said.
"You'd go in there and get an assorted dozen," he said. "They'd pick them out for you. 'What did we get this time?'"
If he was lucky, his family's box would include "a couple of Old Fashioneds, Boston Kremes and jellies," he said. "It was a big treat after church."
Twohig, who joined the company four years ago, oversees 7,400 Dunkin' Donuts stores and 1,100 Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins hybrids.
Previously he held executive positions at Panera Bread and Starbucks. Before that, he owned three Burger Kings.
He began working at a Burger King at age 15. His low-rung job enabled him to learn the fast-food business at a "visceral level," he said.
Learning to bake
Dunkin' Brands believes in giving its franchisees similar kinds of hands-on experience.
All go through training in a baking school, either in Braintree, Mass., or Orlando, Fla., Twohig said.
Many of the baking classes begin at 5 a.m. In an actual Dunkin' Donuts store, Twohig said, the doughnut making starts at 2 a.m.
New Houston franchisee Steve David got off easy. His baking classes started at 7 a.m., he said, although he did have three weeks of training in a store where he had to be there at 5 a.m.
David and his partner, David Greenberg, signed a 16-store agreement with Dunkin' Donuts for the southwest quadrant of Houston. Currently they have stores in Missouri City, on Westheimer at Beltway 8 and on South Shepherd in Montrose.
So far, business is going well, David said.
"Houston is a melting pot," he said. People who moved to Houston from other cities "are coming in saying they grew up on Dunkin'."
It's been around
Longtime Houstonians also know the brand.
The first local Dunkin' Donuts, which opened in 1968 in Pasadena on Southmore Avenue, is still open, Pressler said.
In the first local wave, the Dunkin' Donuts store count grew to 10 but dwindled to four, Twohig said.
The Houston stores probably weren't getting enough attention from headquarters, he said. Now, he said, "we have five or six great franchisees in Houston" and the company is more conscientious.
Dunkin' has strong local competition. Founded in Houston in 1936, Shipley Donuts reports it has grown to more than 250 stores in six states, and around 100 in the Houston area.
Nationally, Dunkin' Donuts' competition includes McDonald's, Starbucks, other doughnut chains such as Krispy Kreme and even gas convenience stores, Twohig said.
Krispy Kreme left the Houston market in 2006 after an eight-year run here.
Some of the most popular kinds of Dunkin' Donuts are Boston Kreme, glazed and jelly, although every region differs somewhat, Twohig said.
It's too early to identify the favorites of a new market like Houston, he said.
Dunkin' has increasingly diversified its offerings.
"We sell more bagels than any other quick-serve chain," Twohig said.
The chain also sells breakfast sandwiches, roast beef on a pretzel roll, chicken salad and tuna salad wraps.
The company is aware of the growing interest in healthy eating, but Twohig said many consumers don't consider eating a doughnut now and then "dangerous."
At the South Shepherd store, which opened almost two months ago, Ronald Branch ordered two double-chocolate doughnuts and an iced Coolata drink and sat down for a Thursday afternoon snack.
The Michigan native said he used to go to a Dunkin' Donuts near Detroit about twice a month. He'd also get doughnuts at the Tim Hortons chain, which is based in Canada.
Branch said he buys doughnuts only on occasion. Earlier that afternoon, he said, he had eaten something "fairly healthy, high in fiber."
Now, he added, "I needed something not so healthy."
(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle
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