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Customers Sway Tastease Doughnut Shop To Stay Open

Bite-Size Product, Outsized Loyalty and a Milestone

By BRIAN DOWLING

June 14, 2012

Tastease, the Parkville doughnut shop expected to close at the end of the month, said Thursday it will keeping making its tiny doughnuts while looking for a buyer to continue the business.

"It's on again, off again," said Tony Mendes, the 67-year-old shop owner and Hartford native. "The customer support has been overwhelming, and we're going to stay open and keep it up for sale."

Mendes, who owns the shop with his wife, Susan, said in early May that he would close the 400-square-foot shop amid a dispute with the city of Hartford. Because of the shop's two tables and handful of gray, plastic chairs, Tastease was classified as a "sit-down restaurant" and would need to have a bathroom to comply with the health code.

A top city official later offered an exception, but Tony Mendes said the damage had been done and he was ready to retire at age 67. A deal with a potential buyer, a caterer in West Hartford, fell through.

Mendes now says the New Park Avenue shop will stay open as long as possible and hold out for a buyer.

It might be just a doughnut shop, but it has a firm following that includes politicians, blue-collar workers, suburban moms and some who travel long distances for the decorated doughnuts and sandwiches. News of the shop's closing tugged on the strong loyalty of its customers, and their response is what drove the Mendes' decision.

On Thursday afternoon, Susan, 57, stood behind the counter, while her husband drank coffee and sat at one of the tables that caused the dispute with the city. He explained why they started the place in 2004.

"Doughnuts were too big, too boring," he said. "We started this as a semi-retirement toy."

The shop's soft opening made $18, Tony said, adding that they tried not to take themselves too seriously.

Eight years later, Tony and Susan are counting up to the millionth doughnut. They are somewhere around 960,000, he said, and a rough estimate would put the millionth doughnut date around August, if the shop keeps up its current clip.

The shop was sold out of its 1,000 doughnuts by 9:30 a.m. Thursday. "Most of our regulars know to call ahead," Tony said.

Nancy Crech, a Wethersfield resident, walked through the door to pick up her order of four cuban sandwiches. Susan told her the news about the shop staying open.

Crech let out an excited noise, and her eyes opened wide. "I planned on making it here twice before they closed," she said. "I hope whoever buys it will continue everything."

Later, Susan broke the news to Florencio Alicea, a regular who lives nearby and walked in around 1 p.m., looking for a doughnut.

"Oh, thank God," he said. "I was really depressed to hear you were closing. I was going to come here as much as I could."

Alicea expressed worries to Tony about whether the quality will change when they find a buyer to take over the shop. Tony said he plans to stay on for a few weeks to get the new owners up to speed and that Susan would also keep working. They live next door.

"We want to see it continue. We want to see it in younger hands," Tony said later.

Last week, a young buyer from West Hartford expressed interest, Susan said, still behind the counter.

She wants to see someone make good use of their license to distribute the dougnuts in grocery stores. He would love to see someone expand the business, get one of these shops in other cities.

For now, though, the young, would-be buyer is just part of the waiting game. "I've had a lot of nibbles like this," Tony said. "The ones without a cent want it real bad, and the ones with money want it for nothing."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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