At Crystal City eatery, nostalgia never tasted so sweet

Kadek "Marty" Ardana, left, and Benny Fischer show off some of the Montgomery Donuts that Fischer offers at his Slice 'n' Dice eatery.
Kadek "Marty" Ardana, left, and Benny Fischer show off some of the Montgomery Donuts that Fischer offers at his Slice 'n' Dice eatery. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Benny Fischer's wife thought he was crazy. But then, what man's wife doesn't occasionally feel that way about her husband?

Mona didn't think it made sense to showcase Montgomery Donuts at the Slice 'n' Dice, the Crystal City restaurant they opened in August. Yes, Montgomery Donuts holds a special place in the sensory recollections of many Washingtonians, but those people are chiefly from Montgomery County, not Arlington County. Plus, the Slice 'n' Dice was not to be a doughnut house. It was to be a "fast-casual" eatery. A place to get hot pizza, subs and made-to-order salads.

And yet, Benny could not let go of Montgomery Donuts. MoDos, he decreed, would be sold.

"Every day, people shake my hand," Benny said Wednesday during a lull in the restaurant's lunchtime rush. "Montgomery Donuts? Thank you."

Before Dunkin', before Krispy Kreme, before Starbucks and McDonald's, there was Montgomery Donuts. Founded in 1946 by William Thurman Mayo, a onetime bus driver for Capital Transit, Metro's precursor, the family business grew to nearly a dozen shops in the Maryland suburbs.

But by the turn of the last century, buffeted by competition and changes in lifestyles, the company was losing tens of thousands of dollars every month. Forced into bankruptcy protection, it was bought -- equipment, customer list and all-important recipes -- by Benny in 2001. (Benny, 53, is also the serial entrepreneur who bought the assets of Gifford's Ice Cream.)

Benny updated the equipment at the Rockville doughnut factory and for two years sold Montgomery Donuts. A blizzard in 2003 caved in the roof, snuffing out his doughnut dreams.

But now Montgomery Donuts are back, made fresh every day on-site and displayed under a sign featuring Billy Boy, the red-headed, freckle-faced urchin who is the company's mascot.

So what makes a Montgomery Donut different?

"They're bigger," Benny said. "They're better."

That sounds like mere flummery, sir. Please elaborate.

"The true test of a doughnut is having it the day after, when it's not warm," he said. "I'm happy to compare Montgomery Donuts to Krispy Kreme and any other doughnut. Typically anything that's sweet and warm is good. Once it cools off, the true flavors are what is left, and the quality of the product will show through."

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