By Amy Rolph Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — Snohomish County has a Top Pot Doughnuts cafe.
That’s right, doughnut fans. Grab your purse or your car keys and try not to drool. It’s at the University Book Store in Mill Creek, and it’s usually open until at least 7:30 p.m.
The popular Seattle-based coffee and doughnut joint quietly made its debut in Mill Creek earlier this month, setting up shop in a large corner of the University Book Store in Mill Creek.
This is the sixth location for Top Pot and the company’s only cafe outside King County.
“We’re just really happy to be in Mill Creek,” said co-founder Mark Klebeck late last week while putting the finishing touches on the bookstore cafe. The coffee shop features doughnuts made at Top Pot’s flagship store in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.
Klebeck said the company strategically opens stores where it knows they have a customer base, and Snohomish County made the cut.
Top Pot was founded in 2002 by Klebeck and his brother. Now the company’s doughnuts are staples in Starbucks bakery cases nationwide.
But Top Pot won’t be without competition at the Mill Creek Town Center. A shop called Frost Doughnuts opened Friday in the complex, just a few blocks away.
Top Pot has been the darling of small business in Seattle since rocketing to doughnut stardom several years ago, fueled by Starbucks’ star power. Top Pot remains small — employing only about 100 people — but it oversees the production of doughnuts for Starbucks stores across the country.
The Cinderella story goes something like this: In 2003, the coffee giant’s founder, Howard Schultz, stopped at Top Pot’s Seattle storefront for a boxed dozen. He liked them so much, he approached Top Pot’s co-founders about selling the doughnuts in his cafes.
The rest, as they say, is happily ever after. Mostly.
As Starbucks reels in the face of economic recession, closing a number of stores and laying off employees, Top Pot hasn’t seen much of a drop in its bottom line, Klebeck said.
Doughnuts and other small indulgences aren’t the kind of things people generally cut from their budget, he pointed out: “It’s still affordable.”
But growth hasn’t come without another set of problems. Earlier this year, several Top Pot investors filed lawsuits in King County Superior Court, alleging their stake in the company was unfairly diminished when Top Pot contracted with Starbucks and merged with Zeitgeist Coffee to form a corporate umbrella called Doughnut Corporation of America.
A judge dismissed several causes of action in the case of one investor in April.
Klebeck said Top Pot doesn’t have plans for rapid expansion, though he’d like to eventually open flagship stores in large cities such as New York, San Francisco — possibly Austin.
But the company is proceeding with caution, waiting for the right locations.
“You can’t just stamp them out one after another,” Klebeck said. “You could, but that wouldn’t be a Top Pot.”
He wants to incorporate existing architectural elements into new stores, and he is especially interested in historic buildings.
“The space dictates the feel,” Klebeck said.
Even the company’s store corner in the Mill Creek University Book Store wasn’t just slapped together from remnants of the store’s former cafe. Shelves had to be built to the right specifications, and a special bakery case was on its way late last week.
The founders of the doughnut company have long had a business relationship with the University Book Store, and Klebeck said it’s not entirely a coincidence that Top Pot’s chief executive officer lives in Mill Creek.
He said his eyes are always open for the right places for expansion — and right now, those places are in the Seattle area.
“We’re very committed to staying home right now, in the Puget Sound,” he said. “We’ve always said we want to be the Dick’s burgers of doughnuts.”
Read Amy Rolph’s small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or email@example.com.