One night not long ago, in the small town of Clare, Mich., a domestic dispute arose at a local residence, and someone called the cops. That is, they called the local bakery, Cops & Doughnuts.
The owners, being real men in blue, knew what to do. They alerted on-duty officers at the station so they could handle the call.
It seems breakfast pastries sweeten the rapport between police and citizens. Sometimes locals, especially teens, find it easier to reach out to police when they’re wearing aprons, and they’ll call or stop by Cops & Doughnuts to discuss a problem. As for the shop’s owners, whether retired or still on the force, they remain committed to civil service. If there’s a car accident on the street outside, they’ve been known to don orange vests and direct traffic.
Meanwhile, they’ve given Clare’s economy a little sugar high.
It began in 2009. The Great Recession was on the wane but still lingering when news came that the Clare City Bakery, a local confectionary since 1896, was about to shut down. Nine officers of varying ranks did a quick financial calculation and decided to collectively buy the business. Thanks in part to the novelty of its new name, the shop quickly gained national and international attention.
Last year, 500,000 fans of raised-and-glazed treats drove past miles of corn and soybean fields and grain elevators and chicken-dinner billboards for a bite of sweet, small-town flavor. On a summer Saturday, the shop will see as many as 4,000 customers.
Not bad for a town with a population of about 3,100 whose only previous claim to fame was a 1930s Purple Gang murder at the Doherty Hotel, which still does business just up the block.
Pull up to the curb at 521 N. McEwan St. (U.S. 27), and you notice two things: no parking meters to feed and a T-shirt displayed in the Cops & Doughnuts storefront that reads, “Cuffed & Stuffed.”
As you emerge from the car and stretch your travel-weary legs, you see a leather-clad biker tucking a blue-and-white-boxed dozen into the compact trunk of his Harley. Inside the shop, which seats a mere 85, townies mingle with vacationers who, in the high season, still have Great Lakes beach sand in their flip-flops. In the winter, patrons arrive towing snowmobiles and sporting ski racks.
The goods? Favorites include the sweet-and-salty Bacon Squealer, an elongated maple-glazed doughnut with two bacon strips. Also popular are the Fleeing Felon Fritter and the custard-filled, chocolate-frosted Bismarck. All are made from scratch and easy on the budget: Doughnuts run 69 cents for an old-fashioned cake style to $1.99 for the Squealer.
Coffee ($1.29 for a small cup) is also offered, along with a wide variety of law-enforcement souvenirs, puns intended. Words on a traveler coffee mug caution, “Don’t dunk and drive.” The hind side of a pair of athletic shorts reads, “D.W.I. — doughnuts were involved.”
We stopped by on a winter Tuesday, and even in a steady, cold drizzle, we spied license plates from two and three states away. In the no-frills, tile-floored dining room, a staffer in uniform — an “Inmate” T-shirt — explained the offerings and mentioned doughnut-hole Thursdays.
We try a doughnut or two or three. We liked the apple fritter: big, cinnamon-y and moist. And the signature coffee — available in medium roast (Day Shift), dark (Night Shift) and decaf (Off Duty) — is good, too.
There’s also a menu with savory breakfast and sandwich offerings. And like the souvenirs, the entrees are named with a bit of cop-shop corn. There’s a Misdemeanor Wiener, for example, and, for children, a Rookie Basket.
Don’t let the silliness mislead you, though. The owners take their bakery, and their role as public servants, quite seriously. From the start, they intended to benefit the community, something they do by donating heavily to school bands, sports and churches. They promote fellow businesses to the bakery’s 33,000 Facebook followers and mentor neighboring start-ups.
“We’re cops. We see problems. We solve problems,” says Cops & Doughnuts president Greg “Ryno” Rynearson, who has retired from the Clare force and works on-site full time, along with fellow retiree Alan “Bubba” White, vice president.
Indeed, Clare’s main-drag storefronts are full. A craft brewery and wine-tasting room, a retro-style cafe, a bike shop and a reclaimed-wood furniture business fill the former gaps between the bakery and other stalwarts, including the Ideal Theatre, which opened in 1930 and still has its original marquee. And tourists stay at the Doherty Hotel, where a cozy, wallpapered lobby belies the infamy of the 1938 gang-related murder.
“A couple of years ago, I met a husband and wife on the sidewalk from Southern Illinois, and they said they came up to Clare for coffee and doughnuts,” says Pam O’Laughlin, executive director of the Clare Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re not that final destination,” she says, “but we are a nice stop along the way.”
Call it a traffic stop.
Powers is a freelance writer and editor in Detroit. Her website is rebeccapowers.com.
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521 N. McEwan St., Clare
The blue awning above the door at Cops & Doughnuts’ “headquarters,” as it calls its main-street location is called, “Historic Clare City Bakery Since 1896,” which formerly occupied the space. The shop is open 24 hours daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. daily throughout the rest of the year. A wide array of baked goods and sandwiches are offered. Doughnut prices range from 69 cents for an old-fashioned cake style to $1.99 for the popular Bacon Squealer. Coffee prices begin at $1.29 for a small cup.