I suppose most folks know about the stereotypes regarding cops and their supposed love for doughnuts, but cops in Clare, Michigan have taken the stereotypes to a whole new level by embracing them, saving a faltering century-old business and enlivening this mid-Michigan town with a population of just over 3,000 in the process.
The Clare City Bakery opened in 1896, but the rough economy most of us experienced around 2009 took its toll on the business and aging owners looking forward to retirement.
Clare cops, like many cops, enjoyed stopping by the local bakery as the town's doughnut shop was among the few places open during the early morning hours when officers like to take a break for coffee or a bit of conversation.
One of Clare's officers heard a rumor that the bakery owners planned on closing the business after failing to sell it.
The officer alerted the other members of Clare's nine-man police department, and the group sprang into action with a plan to purchase the business in the heart of downtown and save it.
Within just a few weeks of hearing the rumor of the bakery's closure, Clare's team all banded together to pool their savings to purchase the place and quickly scribbled a business plan on the back of a pizza box while the group met to chart a way forward for the business.
The bakery opened for business in July of 2009 with one full-time employee and a crew of cops and their families who employed a healthy sense of humor to market their new business endeavor.
The officers were unsure of what would happen as they each put $1,500 of their savings into a lease deal with an option to purchase or back out if things weren't working after 60-days.
But the town had nothing to lose and other businesses along the town's main drag of McEwan Street already feared they may face closure if something didn't happen to draw more customers into town.
The cops promised folks in Clare that the bakery would remain a made-from-scratch bakery and continue to use many of the recipes from the original bakery, making the tweak of renaming the business Cops and Doughnuts Clare City Bakery.
The officers hoped to revive the business and make a positive impact on the local community, but it's not likely that anyone expected what would happen next.
The local media turned out to cover the bakery's re-opening with new ownership on the first day, then word about the cop-owned business spread...and spread and spread and spread.
The story quickly captured the attention of national media outlets and curious travelers began to stop by on their way North.
Reporters from the Associated Press, Food Network television, the "Fox and Friends" show and many other media outlets arrived to do stories about the cops and the self-deprecating humor that they heavily employed to sell the product.
Tour groups arrived regularly to stop and mark their home locations on a wall map at the bakery, and Cops and Doughnuts captured a $10,000 prize with a win on a Cooking Channel Donut Showdown show.
Cops and Doughnuts billboards appearing along Michigan highways and highways as far away as Arizona and Florida further drew attention to the bustling bakery.
The business expanded slowly over the next few years to include offering Cops and Doughnuts brand coffee and pastries at many grocery and convenience stores in northern Michigan. We stopped by Jay's Sporting Goods a couple of weeks ago in Gaylord as Cops and Doughnuts prepared to open a new "precinct" near the store (the Cops and Doughnuts Facebook page reported that the satellite bakery finally opened on September 9).
Today, Cops and Doughnuts employs 50 folks and welcomes 500,000 visitors to the business each year and Clare's now-flourishing downtown. The bakery makes about 300 dozen doughnuts on an average day and reported making 841 dozen doughnuts during Labor Day in 2014.
Cops and Doughnuts is more than a local bakery...it is an event and must-see attraction for many travelers. People come for the coffee, doughnuts and other pastries (we stopped and purchased some cookies on the way home from Up North and highly recommend the molasses cookies!), but the bakery in Clare now occupies three adjoining storefronts and expanded to include a diner, displays of cop memorabilia like police patches from all over the country, historic photos of northern Michigan and a full line of fun T-shirts and other clothing emblazoned with the trademark cop quips dreamed up by the officers and their families.
The locals love the bakery, but customers and online orders, come from around the world.
Pure Michigan's tourism Web site lists Cops and Doughnuts as one of the top ten Michigan restaurant attractions worth taking a detour to visit.
A few of the original nine cops retired from the force in recent years, which only means that they have more time to spend promoting the business and their hometown of Clare. Connect with Cops and Doughnuts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ where they share news about the bakery, promote other Clare area businesses and post traffic and gas price reports for travelers.
Want to learn more about Clare and its history? Check out Clare (Images of America) by Robert Knapp.
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved