SOUTH PORTLAND – Plain. Glazed. Blueberry. Mojito.

When it comes to doughnuts, Mainers can’t seem to get enough.

Now there’s word that Frosty’s Donuts, a mainstay on Brunswick’s Maine Street since 1956, will open a South Portland store this month. Soon after, Tony’s Donuts of Portland will open a shop about a mile farther down Broadway. They join a handful of other local bakeries known for their doughnuts, such as The Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth and The Holy Donut in Portland.

But can the Portland area really support so many doughnut shops? The owners think so.

“There’s never a wrong time to have a doughnut,” said Keyla Carr, who is opening the new Frosty’s with her husband, Haj Carr, and owners Nels Omdal and Shelby St. Andre. “The price is right.”

Rick Fournier, owner of Tony’s Donuts, agrees.

“During the hard economic times, the bakery business is always good,” he said. “We’re a comfort food and people want to get something to treat themselves.”

The number of doughnut shops is on the rise nationwide, increasing by 2 percent last year to nearly 14,000 stores, according to a spring restaurant census from the NPD Group, a New York market research firm. The number of doughnut shops in Maine stayed flat at 175, but that will change as Frosty’s and Tony’s open the new stores.

Maine’s love affair with doughnuts is long-standing, which may be understandable considering the ring-shaped doughnut was invented in 1847 by a man from Camden. Capt. Hanson Gregory was tired of uncooked dough in the middle of his “fried cakes” and “twisters.” His solution came in the form of the cover of the ship’s tin pepper box, which he used to “cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes,” he recounted to The Washington Post in 1916.

When asked if he was pleased with the outcome, Gregory responded: “Was Columbus pleased? Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion — no more greasy sinkers — but well-done, fried-through doughnuts.”

“Maybe that explains why New Englanders are naturally drawn to doughnuts,” said Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut on Park Avenue in Portland.

People in the Northeast, it turns out, eat more doughnuts than in all other parts of the country except the South. In the past year, Americans bought 1.6 billion doughnuts, up 1 percent from the previous year, according to the NPD Group. In the fiscal year that ended in June, people in the Northeast ordered 422 million doughnuts, second only to the 568 million ordered in the South census region.

Out on the West Coast, doughnuts appear to be far less popular: only 287 million were sold last year.

Americans eat an average of nine doughnuts a year, but people in the Northeast order 49 percent more doughnuts than elsewhere in the country, according to the NPD Group.

Clarence Rhodes of Portland, a regular at Tony’s Donuts, is skeptical of the nine-a-year average.

“I could eat nine doughnuts in a day myself,” he said Wednesday morning as he had coffee at Tony’s Donuts.

His friend, Dave Fenderson, admits to eating doughnuts — especially molasses-flavored — a couple times a week.

“A couple a week, Davey?” Dan Villacci, another Tony’s regular, joked. “He lies.”

Villacci eats three doughnuts a day, sometimes more, and says there are many other Mainers who do the same. From his regular seat at Tony’s, he watches as customers grab doughnuts and coffee on their way to work, stop by for a snack and a chat with friends, or pick up a dozen doughnuts for the family after Sunday morning church services. Tony’s sells about 200 dozen doughnuts a day.

Holy Donuts’ Kellis — who makes 600 doughnuts on weekdays and 1,400 on Saturdays — said Portland is a foodie town, which may explain the loyal support local shops experience. Her doughnuts, which all contain locally grown potatoes, go beyond traditional glazed and draw in customers looking for something a bit different: sweet potato ginger, dark chocolate sea salt, Allen’s Coffee Brandy, mojito, to name a few. Craving something a little more savory? There’s always the potato doughnut stuffed with cheddar cheese and bacon.

“Doughnuts are a fun, unusual item you don’t find everywhere,” Kellis said. “It’s a comfort food. It immediately brings you back to being a kid and not worrying about what you’re eating.”

And then there’s the price.

Even at $1.50 for an artisan doughnut, most people can afford to splurge occasionally.

“It’s a cheap thrill,” Kellis said.

Omdal, whose love of Frosty’s doughnuts led him to buy and expand the business, agrees.

“I think doughnuts are such a guilty pleasure,” he said. “What I’ve found is it’s one of those comfort foods you can have at any occasion. It’s one thing you can’t get sick of.”

To make sure their customers don’t get tired of the classics, bakers say they experiment with new and distinctive flavors. The Cookie Jar added seasonal selections — think apple, pumpkin and eggnog — but the best seller of the “unique” flavors is red velvet, said bakery owner Tom Piscopo, who thinks hand-cut doughnuts are the only real doughnuts.

“They’re an emotional rescue,” he said.

The owners of Frosty’s hope residents do indeed have an appetite for more doughnuts. When they open later this month, they will try to attract new customers with their signature Frosty’s glazed twists and a station where people can add their own toppings.

“People just love doughnuts,” St. Andre, the Frosty’s owner, said. “They always get excited. It’s like nothing else.”

“Everyone in Maine and New England can agree there’s nothing better than a good doughnut,” Haj Carr added. 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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Twitter: grahamgillian