RESTAURANTS

Daylight Donuts returns to Iowa City's east side in new spot after 9-month closure

Daylight Donuts recently reopened in Iowa City. Photographed on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Daylight Donuts recently reopened in Iowa City. Photographed on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — When Scott Ward announced he would have to close Daylight Donuts in Iowa City because the location the doughnut shop shared with a gas station had been sold, the outcry from fans of the bakery was immediate.

“Sometimes you have to leave to find out how much people like you,” Ward said. “When you make those connections with people, sometimes you underestimate the importance of them.”

So he and his wife, Vicki Ward, started looking for a new place to reopen Daylight Donuts and keep bringing baked goodies to the community. The former Daylight Donuts location, at 3560 E. Court St., closed May 18, and the new spot opened Feb. 27 at 1681 S. First Ave., Iowa City.

“It was a surprise finding out our building was going to sell,” Ward said. “And it was a surprise the amount of people who said stay on the east side. But it makes sense; we spent almost nine years building up a customer base on the east side.”

The new space is smaller than their previous location, and it doesn’t have any seating. Ward said finding a location that was affordable and still on the east side was a challenge and he looked at several dozen places. He settled on this one, which was previously Sun Cafe, because of the drive through window, which he plans to open up later this year.

“We’re just a mom and pop doughnut shop. Having to move and start over was not in my long-term plan,” he said.

Ward said he refinanced his house in order to pay for the buildout of the new location, but the risk felt worth it.

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“I kept thinking about what I’d do if I couldn’t do the doughnut shop, and I couldn’t think of anything. I’ve kind of become known as the doughnut guy,” he said.

He said he has faith his customers will return to the new spot.

“It’s kind of like jumping out of a plane; you hope your parachute opens before you hit the ground, but you just jump. It’s kind of exhilarating,” he said.

The Wards originally opened Daylight Donuts in Iowa City in 2011.

“It was temporary insanity,” Scott Ward said of the decision to give up his career at a consumer packaging company to open his own business. “At the time, there was nobody doing fresh-made doughnuts in Iowa City — no traditional, classic doughnut shop.”

He said even getting bank financing was a challenge.

“They said a doughnut shop wouldn’t work, because Iowa City is ‘healthy,’” he said.

He didn’t buy that logic. Doughnuts are more than a sweet treat to him; they evoke nostalgia and childhood memories.

“When you talk to your brothers and sisters about growing up, you don’t remember going to the convenience store or wherever, but you remember going to the doughnut shop,” he said. “People have an emotional connection to remembering going to the doughnut shop. You become a little bit more part of the community.”

Visiting friends in Kansas City, his kids would always want to visit the same doughnut shop, and every time they went, there would be a line out the door, until it sold out. The image of that stayed with him.

“I started calling doughnut shops. They were so open. People opened their books to show me and invited me in to make doughnuts with them,” he said.

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He spent two years traveling to doughnut shops around the region doing research before he settled on the Daylight Donuts brand.

Daylight Donuts was started in 1954 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its products are now sold in more than 1,000 locations around the world. It operate with licensing fees rather than franchises. Ward said in order to use the Daylight Donuts name and branding, he has agreed to buy all his doughnut mixes from Daylight Donuts Flour Co.

In the new location, he is partnering with Java House, which has a location just across the parking lot, to serve its coffee. In return, Java House will start serving his doughnuts.

The success of his business depends on building relationships, whether with other local businesses like Java House or with customers, he said.

“It helps if you have some really nice doughnuts to encourage them to come in, but really it’s just about keeping things simple,” he said. “Smile when people come in; get to know them. We live and breathe off repeat business. You can often set your clock off the regular customers. You know who is going to come in every Sunday morning at the same time.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Daylight Donuts

• Where: 1681 S. First Ave., Iowa City

• Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily

• Details: (319) 338-1429, facebook.com/IowaCityDonuts

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