Located not even a block from my father’s pediatrics office (which would be to the left of the building, down and across the street), Donuts Delite was part of our neighborhood and a beloved icon of my childhood.
But beyond that, it was an iconic part of the Rochester, NY community from its opening in 1958 until it shut its doors in 2005.
Even my husband, who grew up on another side of town, knew it well.
It was the character of the place that made it so much a part of the community’s fabric.
Middle-aged waitresses straight out of a 1950s movie, the kind that called you “honey,” poured coffee for those sitting at the pink, blue and beige formica counter. The counter customers were usually men, usually Sicilian and quite often, in the “family” business. If you know what I mean.
If we happened to stop in with our parents, they usually knew most everyone in the shop. “How you doin’, Sandy?” the men would call out to my mother.
My father eschewed donuts: not healthy, he said. Until his hips gave out he ran 10 miles a day at the YMCA and didn’t find hauling donut weight around the track very “deliteful”.
But on any Sunday morning, you might see his youngest brother sitting at the counter, sipping his coffee, enjoying a donut and greeting friends and acquaintances. “How you doin’?” he’d ask them. And if he saw us: “Hi, honey!”
The coffee was good, but the donuts stole the show. (See that cup above? I have one. A gift from my sister. And that’s a chocolate “long john” donut with it.) I stood at the counter pictured below watching clerks place our order into the logoed blue and white boxes many times as a kid, and a more than a few as a visiting adult.
Jelly donuts were popular among the Italian-American crowd. You think there’s just one flavor of jelly donut? Nope. Blueberry. Strawberry. And half a dozen more. Also big sellers were cream-filled chocolate long johns, peanut covered, powdered sugar, plain buttermilk and “fry-cakes” to dunk in coffee or milk– they were all delicious. All 59 choices.
At our house, donuts were reserved for Sunday mornings after church. Sometimes my grandfather would bring a dozen or so over to the house and after he died, his son, my Uncle Jack, would sometimes show up with the iconic box.
We all loved Donuts Delite, but I was the biggest fan in my family. My favorite was its signature donut, called a Flying Saucer. It was an over-sized glazed cinnamon donut with frosting, which sounds disgusting but was yummy.
It seemed like Donuts Delite would always be a landmark at 1700 Culver Road near Empire Boulevard, between St. Ambrose Church (where M. and I got married the first time) and my father’s office, which stood at #1749.
It was big –and sad– news when the shop was forced to close in 2005, unable to compete with the chain stores. My sister emailed me the article as soon as she saw it. This photo of deserted Donuts Delite says it all.
That’s what it looked like in 2008 when the hearse carrying my father’s body began to slow as it drove away from St. Ambrose, stopping just a dozen yard further in front of my dad’s office in a final salute.
It’s sad to watch the icons of childhood disappear, one by one. And our world seems to have changed so much more than that of our parents. The huge, old, brick-covered city public schools my parents attended are still in service, now with a different ethnic mix.
But Ridgewood, my junior high, is now a Wegman’s grocery store and my public grammar school, Laurelton, is an office building.
Our world changes at warp speed, making it hard to go home again.
But then, good news! A local pizzeria owner was bringing Donuts Delite back, with one of the original family members making the donuts.
This year, in January, Donuts Delite reopened. It wasn’t exactly the same (it shares space with a pizzeria) but offers the same donuts.
As for us? Well, we still have our memories.
And Donuts Delite’s Facebook page.
That’s right. It had 1,381 members the last time I checked and I am one of them.
The only constant is change, they say. And if paired with a pizzeria and on Facebook are the only ways I can have Donuts Delite back, well, I’ll take it.
Yes, I will.
* Donuts Delite Everyone was one of its slogans way back. And my husband just read this and said, grinning, “I’d kill for a long john right now.” Hmm. Maybe they’ll Fed Ex a dozen.