From southern China to Italy, the American South to Kazakhstan, you can find fried dough on plates around the world. It’s even believed that ancient Egyptians ate fried dough. Crystal Lake is no exception.
At Country Donuts in Crystal Lake (818 Rt. 14 in Crystal Lake, 815-455-2028, www.countrydonuts.net), about 30 varieties of donuts, including traditional chocolate-iced, old-fashioned butter cream and coconut, as well as blueberry cake and French twists, make your mouth water. Although the plentiful variety of donuts is impressive unto itself, it would be negligent not to mention other specialties such as bagels, muffins, cookies, donut holes and beverages, including coffees and fresh apple cider imported from Wisconsin.
The donuts at Country Donuts are fresh and light. They go down smoothly alone or with milk, hot chocolate, coffee or cider.
Larry Swanson opened Country Donuts in 1976, and Scott Offord partnered with him in 1980. The original building was remodeled, and a local legend was born. Since then, a few things have changed to meet customers’ needs. Offord has been baking since he was fifteen years old, first in his father’s Dunkin’ Donuts, then to pay his way through college and now Country Donuts.
Offord’s background as a baker and his dedication to making quality products have helped to elevate Country Donuts above and beyond its franchised competition.
The commanding presence of the humble, independent donut store is not only demonstrated by maintenance of their high-quality standards. It is solidified by their commitment to stay away from becoming just another widespread franchise store and avoid being bought out by a larger chain. This independent donut shop has kept up its standard of offering a wide variety, great taste and customer service.
“This freedom to remain independent has been what’s best for our company and our customers,” said Offord. “Without franchise restrictions, we can constantly improve all aspects of the company. There is a formula—both a baking formula and a customer-focused formula.”
This recipe has given Country Donuts the best award possible—customer appreciation. The success of Country Donuts comes from a dedicated customer base that is spread out through McHenry, Kane and Lake counties. This widespread fanbase is a result of the Country Donuts formula, which includes promotions, coupons and word of mouth. Equally important is their strong legion of dedicated customers.
“My husband, Milt, and I have been coming to Country Donuts since we moved to McHenry County in 1985,” said JoAnne Kool of Crystal Lake.
The couple comes to Country Donuts after dates to the movies and on Saturday mornings. JoAnne also regularly brings a box of donuts to her mother’s assisted-care facility, a gesture that makes her visits appreciated by the attendants as well as her mother, who especially enjoys the jelly-filled varieties.
“There is no other donut shop that can compare in freshness or flavor,” said JoAnne.
When you visit Country Donuts, you’re not just coming for a sweet sensation. You’re sharing a cup of coffee and donut with others in your community.
“You go to the donut shop to talk to others sitting at the counter with you, elbow-to-elbow,” said JoAnne. “I love the service and the people. It’s a welcoming place to meet others.”
In an economy that would seem to support the opposite, Country Donuts continues to grow and keep customers satisfied through their independence. Offord and Swanson are constantly aware that the downside to independent ownership of an establishment can come back to haunt them.
“You are only as good as the satisfaction that you brought to the last customer that walked through the door,” Offord said. “We constantly have to be on our toes.”
Country Donuts is a rare breed of old-schooled, skilled bakers. They still hand-roll and hand-cut the donuts. The donuts rise better and they taste better.
“We specially tailor our recipes to what our customers want,” said Offord. “We have modified our recipes to accommodate their needs in spice and texture. We devote our attention to our customers and listen to them. We don’t churn out mass-produced products. We offer rich donuts.”
When asked about a possible expansion, Offord simply replied that he and his partner, “are enjoying operating the business because we like the job and we love our customers. This is perfect.”
This desire for the best possible is the spirit that makes Country Donuts a positively unique atmosphere. The sweet smell of the donuts, the ’50s-style, soda-shop atmosphere and the swift, friendly service make the little time left in your busy schedule the perfect time to stop, slow down and savor a donut, right here in our neck of the world.