Police officers are charged with protecting a community’s citizens. The cops in Clare, Mich., population 3,128, went one step further: they saved the town bakery.
In May 2009, Clare City Bakery, a fixture on McEwan Street for more than a century, was days away from closing its doors for good—one more small-town victim of Michigan’s slumping economy.
That’s when the police force, all nine officers and their family members, stepped in. They pooled their funds, purchased the bakery in June and—without missing a beat—re-opened less than a month later as Cops & Doughnuts.
“We’ve been on a dead run ever since,” says co-owner and president Greg Rynearson, a native of Clare and a 30-year veteran of the force. He took early retirement to devote his time to the bakery business.
In addition to classic cake and yeast-raised doughnuts, the revamped bakery now sells specialties such as the “night-stick,” a triple-chocolate frosted “long john” (oblong) doughnut; and the “bacon squealer,” a long john thickly iced with maple frosting and topped with two slices of bacon. Everything is made from scratch, free of preservatives.
“We make all our stuff with real cream, real sugar, real eggs—everything that you’re not supposed to have,” Rynearson says.
To say that the new owners have done well hardly does them justice. On a midday in August, the shop was bustling with customers. Outside, tourists lured by the billboard on I-75, five-star TripAdvisor reviews and other press coverage (there has been a lot) snapped shots of the bakery with their smart phones.
“We planned on one full-time employee; now we have 41,” says Rynearson. That includes seven bakers who turn out thousands of doughnuts and other baked goods every day. “There are times on a Saturday where we make over 500 dozen of just the yeast-raised.”
The association between cops and doughnuts stretches back a long way—to the days before Starbucks (yes, there was such a time). Police officers in cities and towns across America who walked the beat would stop in at the local bakery—the only establishment open in the wee hours of the morning—for reinforcements of coffee and baked goods. Eventually the association became a cliché and a point of ridicule, to which anyone who has ever watched “The Simpsons” can attest.
But the officers in Clare have reclaimed the cliché. Although he declined to talk specific numbers, Rynearson says revenue growth has increased from 20 percent in the second year to 52 percent this year. In addition to doughnuts, cookies, cakes and breads, Cops & Doughnuts runs an adjoining diner that serves, among other classics, hamburgers on homemade buns and in-house smoked pork sandwiches—the pork comes from pigs bought at the Clare, Isabella and Oseola county fairs.
Of course, where there are cops and doughnuts there must also be coffee, right? Cops & Doughnuts now markets its own brand of coffee, “Cops Coffee,” in partnership with Paramount Coffee, a company in Lansing, Mich., that has been around since 1935.
The flagship bakery also sells a variety of paraphernalia (of the legal sort), including T-shirts, shorts and hoodies, mugs and shot glasses, hats, swimwear and even cologne (“Probable Cause” for women and “Under Suspicion” for men). The online store [www.copsanddoughnuts.com], meanwhile, has sold merchandise to consumers in all 50 states and 14 countries, Rynearson says. There are “precincts” in nearby Alma and Harrison, and more expansions are planned.
This week, four of the owner-officers head to England, where they will deliver 3,000 bags of Cops Coffee to the officers of the Hampshire Constabulary Portsmouth District, in Portsmouth, as a way of sealing a friendship that began on Twitter. Portsmouth’s historic Gunwarf Quay police station will be temporarily turned into a Cops & Doughnuts substation for the event.
The growth, Rynearson marvels, has been far beyond what the nine officers imagined. “Our original business plan was on the back of a pizza box,” he says. “I guess we found that the American dream does live on. You just have to work hard to make it happen.”