Customers munch apple-studded Felony Fritters, cinnamon twist Night Sticks or Bacon Squealer long johns, and sip coffee in strengths ranging from Off Duty decaf to Midnight Shift dark roast.
Some order sandwiches with names like Stool Pigeon or Misdemeanor Wiener, then shop for merchandise stamped with silly slogans such as “You have the right to remain glazed.”
It’s all part of the winning business formula at Cops & Doughnuts, a cop-owned bakery, retail store and diner complex that has become a thriving tourist attraction in downtown Clare, Mich.
The enterprise dates back to 2009 when the local police force — all nine officers — heard the town bakery was on the verge of closing. Commiserating over lunch, they quickly hatched a rescue plan, scribbling details on a pizza box. Then, the lawmen formed a business partnership and kicked in $1,500 each to buy their favorite hangout, a Clare institution since 1896.
“We had 500,000 people go through our three stores last year — we’re truly in the travel mix now.” – Greg Rynearson, President, Cops & Doughnuts
CREATING COPS & DOUGHNUTS
In a stroke of inspired branding, they named the venture “Cops & Doughnuts,” capitalizing on the old cliché that gained pop-culture traction via TV shows, movies and even a video slot-machine game. The catchy moniker, combined with savvy marketing, has drawn widespread media attention and hordes of customers eager to sample the shop’s made-from-scratch baked goods with tongue-in-cheek names.
“We’re not just a bakery, we’re an event,” says Greg “Ryno” Rynearson, the hands-on president who took early retirement from the police force a few years ago to oversee what he refers to as the retail “fun and games.” Pointing to a map-board with visitor pins stuck in all 50 states and scores of international destinations, he says, “It’s just endless. One day I was sitting here at a table with some of the locals and all of a sudden we hear some women screaming. They’d driven 360 miles up from Ohio and were excited to be here.… People can come in here and spend a couple of hours and have a good time.”
Customers typically take their time exploring the three adjacent buildings that make up Cops & Doughnuts, including the Traffic Stop Diner, which opened in 2012, and the Cop Shop. In addition to Cops & Doughnuts-branded merchandise, the latter showcases memorabilia such as police department patches from across the nation and some vintage training manuals. There’s also an area set aside for visitors to pose for “mug shots.”
Souvenirs range from colorful T-shirts, tank tops and short shorts to bumper stickers and beverage cups. The top-selling slogan, according to Rynearson, is “D.W.I.: Doughnuts Were Involved.” Also popular: “Hand Cuffs and Cream Puffs” and “Guns & Buns.”
Cops & Doughnuts has expanded rapidly, from a handful of employees in 2009 to nearly 50 today, he says. Besides the three downtown Clare buildings, there’s a satellite “precinct” in the nearby city of Alma, two daily delivery routes with nearly four dozen stops and a buzzing mail-order division.
Rynearson, 52, often can be found meeting and greeting customers and posing for photos. He also supervises Cops & Doughnuts’ social media outreach (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it) and the growing number of mail orders.
In February, for example, in addition to a donut-fueled Valentine’s Day, the bakery shipped 5,000 Fat Tuesday orders to addresses in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C., St. Croix and as far away as Okinawa, Japan; each box contained six of the Polish jelly-filled donuts known as paczki (poonch-key), Rynearson says.
Cops Coffee is another mail-order favorite; the medium roast Morning Shift is the top-seller. There’s also a made-in-Michigan line of Cops & Doughnuts cologne — for women and men — named Miss Behavin, Under Suspicion and Probable Cause.
After six years in business, Rynearson and his cop-partners are proud that they not only saved Clare’s once-dying downtown from vacant building-blight but also put the small mid-Michigan city of 3,100 on tourist maps.
Pointing out that Clare is located in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, “halfway to everywhere in the state,” he boasts: “We had 500,000 people go through our three stores last year — we’re truly in the travel mix now.”
And, he says with a wink, why not? With seven of his original cop-partners still on the beat, writing tickets and investigating crimes, Cops & Doughnuts is easily the safest place around.
For information and hours, check copsdoughnuts.com or call (989) 968-4488.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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