Donut shop to experiment with franchising

ANNA MARIA -- Shawn and Cecilia Wampole have conquered the doughnut universe on Anna Maria Island. Up next, the world.

The couple's startup donut shop, The Donut Experiment, is going franchise. A little more than two years after the Wampoles opened the business on Pine Avenue in downtown Anna Maria, they're looking to take the concept off island.

Expansion has been part of the plan since the shop met with early success just after opening in December 2012. When the Wampoles started seeing hundreds of donuts going out the door hourly during peak season, they started dreaming of building a second shop elsewhere on the island and a third in downtown Sarasota.

"We're way beyond where we ever expected," Shawn Wampole said.

But with storefronts in those two locations nearly impossible to come by, the Wampoles decided that selling Donut Experiment franchises would be a better way to spread their concept.

The daily mob scene in the 1,200-square foot shop at 210C Pine Avenue is proof that there's market demand for the deep-fried pastries The Donut Experiment is selling.

Each morning, dozens of people can be found queuing up in the shop and sometimes out the door. What they're waiting for are hot, freshly made donuts that have been hand dipped in chocolate, vanilla, caramel or maple icings, and then topped with one or more of a dozen toppings including chocolate sprinkles and bacon.

In December, The Donut Experiment added premium coffee drinks to the menu, which attracted even more business. Wampole said adding that to the shop's fresh-made, flavored-to-order donut concept will help franchise stores stand up to and stand out from national doughnut franchises including Dunkin' Donuts, Tim Hortons and Krispy Kreme.

The Wampoles are selling franchises priced between $105,000 and $205,000. The basic Donut Experiment shop will be about the same size as the original. For the money, franchisees would get their stores built out, fully equipped and linked in with everything needed to make the company's signature cake doughnuts.

Wampole said he has received franchise inquiries from around the country, including the Northeast, Northwest and California, but has yet to sign anyone on. He believes the franchise fee is attractively priced. Profit

margin in the donut business is also good, thanks to low food costs associated with a pastry business.

The challenge, he said, is to find franchisees who not only want to make money, but who will dedicate themselves to food quality and customer experience.

"Obviously, the profitability is there," he said. "We don't want just anybody, we want people who are like minded."

The Wampoles started The Donut Experiment as Anna Maria Donuts after moving to the island with their two children a few years ago. The shop made an early impact with donut flavors including key lime and maple bacon. Recently, the business has been working in partnership with Motorworks Brewing in Bradenton to produce a line of doughnut flavor-inspired beers.

The Donut Experiment is not the only restaurant concept that has gotten a start on Anna Maria before pursuing expansion. Poppo's Taqueria, which started serving all-natural Mission-style Mexican food on the island just over a year ago, will have four restaurants open in the Bradenton area by August.

Michael Coleman, an operating partner with the restaurant company, said gaining the approval of Anna Maria diners is a good indicator of wider success.

"I think the people that live and visit Anna Maria have a high standard of acceptance," he said.

The family-operated company is planning to franchise its restaurants in the near future.