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Business Spotlight: Brothers in Baking

St. George family continues a doughnut dynasty rooted in tradition

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Springfieldians have had a longtime staple for local daily-fresh doughnuts: They could go to St. George’s – or maybe St. George’s.

The two doughnut shops – one on National Avenue and the other on Sunshine Street – bear the same name and founding family, but they are individually owned and operated by each of two brothers, Kevin St. George and Nick St. George.

Kevin has owned St. George’s Donuts at 3012 S. National Ave. for 20 years. Nick bought in to the family business five years ago, acquiring the 3628 E. Sunshine St. shop from his mother, Katy St. George.

“What makes us a good doughnut is these old techniques that we use,” Nick says.

The brothers say they learned the value of daily fresh-baked doughnuts from their hard-working mom, who with her husband, Charles, founded the business in 1971.

The brothers start their workdays at midnight, to prepare the next morning’s products. Katy, at age 77, still comes in to work.

Nick has slowly modernized his stores, replacing old registers and updating appliances. He also owns the St. George’s Donuts at 1415 W. State Highway J in Ozark, a 2018 expansion under Nick’s NTSG Enterprises LLC. Plus, Nick’s business supplies daily doughnuts for St. George’s in Marshfield, owned by his brother Tony.

Kevin calls himself “old-school” and runs a smaller operation. While their products may be similar, Kevin says doughnut-making is an art form and over the years he’s made recipes his own.

“So there is a difference,” he says.

Shared history
Kevin says his grandfather owned a Winchell’s Donut House franchise in California, where his mother learned the business. She and Charles, the son of Italian immigrants, bought into the franchise.

In 1971, the couple moved their growing family to the Ozarks, where Katy has roots, and opened the first St. George’s Donuts near Glenstone Avenue and Grand Street.

Charles worked as a mason by day, while Katy made the store’s doughnuts. But Charles’ health problems prompted them to close the store for a time, and they reopened around 1980 at Scenic Avenue and Mount Vernon Street. Kevin and other siblings helped in the doughnut shop. Nick, the youngest, was a baby. After Charles died in 1985, Kevin and his oldest brothers joined their mom in the business, which expanded to the National store in the early 1990s and the Sunshine store in 1995. The St. George’s brand mascot pays homage to their father; it’s a cartoon baker developed by Kevin.

Eventually, Kevin says, ownership was redistributed. He got the National shop, his mother kept the Sunshine location, and the Scenic store closed. Tony, who served in the military, opened the Marshfield shop around 2008.

Nick’s early profession was as a hair stylist, leasing a chair for 10 years at Walnut Street Barber Shop. In 2014, he learned his mom was interested in selling her shop. Nick says he didn’t want it to go outside the family and asked to buy it.

Making dough
Doughnuts are both a comfort food and a trendy treat. Baking ingredient supplier Dawn Foods finds that 37% of Americans eat doughnuts monthly. The company’s 2018 survey also found 80% of millennial and Gen Z consumers like trying unique variations. But the company’s trend report also suggests U.S. consumers buy doughnuts for flavor over toppings, type or packaging.

For the most part, Kevin and Nick St. George eschew doughnut trends. Both say glazed doughnuts are by far their best sellers. They also make blueberry, devil’s food, sour cream, chocolate and various cake varieties. They’ve added Oreo and Butterfinger doughnuts, but Nick says they don’t get really crazy.

Both businesses earned loyal wholesale customers, including churches, gas stations and retirement communities.

“I think they’ve got one of the best doughnuts in the country,” says Gary Hodge, retail coordinator for Rapid Robert’s Inc., a convenience store wholesale client of Nick’s. “Everybody likes the doughnuts and customer service is great.”

River Bluff Fellowship Church in Ozark has been a customer for roughly 20 years, says Scott Watson, pastor. Sometimes, kids call River Bluff the “doughnut church,” he says.

Revenue hole
The wholesale business for both brothers took a hit, though, from COVID-19. As a result of shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, Nick says wholesale orders dropped by roughly 70%. For instance, River Bluff Fellowship Church stopped buying when in-person gatherings stopped. Even when they return, doughnuts and coffee won’t be served.

“We want to communicate that everybody is safe, so we’re trying to stay strong with boundaries,” Watson says.

Counter sales dropped 50%-60% while customers sheltered in place. Nick shut his business down for three weeks. Kevin never fully closed, instead offering curbside pickup and delivery.

“The public needs normalcy. They need something, even now after it’s all happened,” Kevin says.

With shelter orders lifting, the shop owners say consumers are returning and counter sales are up, but both brothers decline to disclose revenues.

Most people don’t know each business operates independently, so if someone brings in a coupon from Nick’s doughnut shop, Kevin honors it.

“Doughnuts are supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be fun,” Kevin says, adding there may be some friendly competition, “but there are no hard feelings.”

Nick agrees: “If they are not coming to me, I want them to go to my brother.”

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