Shelby and Nels Omdal, both 35, bought Frosty’s Donuts in Brunswick two years ago, taking over from the couple who opened the store in 1965. The business has expanded, with two more shops in Freeport and Bath and a new contract to provide doughnuts to Hannaford supermarkets.
Shelby Omdal said they produce about 400 dozen doughnuts on an average day, and a new loan from the Brunswick Development Corp. will allow the company to add employees and equipment to expand production. The company now has 23 employees and an expanding wholesale operation. Omdal said it was “marginally profitable” last year, but is on track for greater profitability in the future.
Q: How did you get into the doughnut business?
A: We live in Brunswick, and we used to frequent Frosty’s when the previous owners (Bob and June Frost) had it. It went up for sale and was closed for a while, and we wanted to see it reopen and wanted to work for ourselves – and learn how to make doughnuts. I was a social worker and Nels worked at a bank. I think we just saw the potential of what we could do with it. We met with Bob Frost and there was an instant connection, and we thought we could make it work. Everything fell in line, even the financing, which was tough to get two years ago. I was going to keep my job – that was the plan – but about two weeks into it we realized that wasn’t going to work. We had to put up our house to get the loan, so there was a huge amount of risk, but it didn’t matter if we worked night and day. It had to be successful.
Q: Did either of you have any experience making doughnuts?
A: Nels was always an amazing cook and could make something out of nothing. We knew he would be able to pick it up. I’ve always been in some sort of business aspect of things, management and that type of stuff.
When we started off, there were the two of us and two employees, and everyone was doing it all. Nels would come in and make the doughnuts. I’d come in at 4 (a.m.) when we could get a babysitter, and open the store and sell doughnuts all day, and then close and clean the store and Nels would go and get a few hours of sleep.
Q: Was it tough learning to make the doughnuts?
A: It’s a long process. The way we make doughnuts takes time. It’s not automated on an assembly line. It’s all hand cut and a batch of dough takes three hours, at least. On our busy nights, we’re doing five large batches, which is a lot of doughnuts – about 500 dozen.
Q: How is the business split between retail and wholesale?
A: We have a lot of wholesale accounts, but the major account right now is Hannaford. They’re no longer making their own doughnuts; we’re making them. We had to buy new delivery trucks, hire new drivers, and hire new bakers. The expansion we’re doing is on the wholesale end. We’re not opening a new store, but we definitely have our sights set on a couple of locations in the Gardiner-Augusta area and in the northern midcoast.
Q: Is it what you expected?
A: We had no idea what we were getting into when we bought it. The first day we opened, we had a line around the block and sold out in 45 minutes. We both stood there in shock. We had no idea that people would love it so much. The thing we did well is we kept everything the same. Bob himself taught us how to make the doughnuts, and we didn’t waver from that or try to do things cheaper, while we still keep the prices low.
Q: How has the expansion gone?
A: We’ve taken on five new employees. I think the total will be about seven. We’re buying delivery vehicles and equipment, and a huge bulk of it’s going to the building itself in Brunswick. The store was kind of falling around itself. The store had no insulation, and last winter we were paying $1,000 a week on a payment plan for oil.
Q: Sounds like you have long days.
A: We have three kids, too, and we really don’t get much sleep in our house, but it’s just been amazing. We’ve learned so much and had some great successes, and the people that we’ve met have been great. The whole thing has kind of come together, one piece at a time. It’s exciting to have this happen to your business, to go from a mom-and-pop business and then open another store and another store and then we got a contract with Maine Med and then Hannaford. It’s been amazing.
Q: What’s your favorite type of doughnut?
A: Chocolate coconut or chocolate glazed. I eat them warm when they’re freshly made and you can’t beat it. We really have kept the recipe exactly the same. We’ve introduced some new things, like bacon maple. The thing that we offer that’s different is we have a make-your-own doughnut station, You can pick your base and then pick your topping. If you want Gummy Bears, you’ve got it. Especially with the younger crowd, that’s popular.
Q: Do you still get surprised by anything in the business?
A: Every day. The first real surprise was how much work it really is, I don’t think people have any idea. Our store’s open 24 hours a day, and we’re always making sure that the product is right, making sure the quality is there. There are times when if somebody calls out (sick), we wonder how are we going to cover it and who’s going to stay home with the kids. But the payoff is that were selling a lot of doughnuts. Some people look at us and say, ‘They’re going crazy,’ but you have to sell a lot of doughnuts at a dollar apiece to keep 23 employees and three stores and all these accounts going.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: