Everybody loves a good donut. What better way to enjoy the delicious treat than heading over to get a freshly baked Shipley Donut.
“McAllen loves their donuts!” David Duff, franchisee of Shipley Donuts, said. “Over these 40 plus years, I’ve come to see it as a generational thing. I look out at our customers and see the kids who used to stand on the chairs and watch me make donuts coming in with their kids standing on the chairs watching the employees make donuts. Now, as those kids graduate from college, get married, and bring their kids in to watch, it will be the fourth generation of families that has followed us.”
Duff, born and raised in Kankakee, Illinois, sixty miles south of Chicago, moved to the Valley with his family as a senior in high school when his father cried, “Enough!”
“In 1975, we had a 500-year winter and 1976 was worse,” Duff said. “My dad went in search of a warmer place to live and found the Valley after crossing expensive California off his list. Our realtor told my parents about the Shipley business being for sale and they bought it.”
Paul Duff was an entrepreneur, having been a car salesman in Kankakee, who worked himself up to president of the dealership. For many years, besides the Shipley store, the family ran one of the first video rental stores in the Valley, graduating to home theaters and 10-foot satellite systems. Over everything, Shipley Donuts was their main concern.
“For about 12 years I worked doing the manual labor of the donut business,” he recalled. “For the first part of those years, time seemed to stand still. I did the same hard work they did. My mom sold the donuts, I cut them, and my dad cooked them. We were early A.M. type of people. We had to get up early to produce the products.”
Hard work was familiar to them, having grown up next to his farmer grandparents with chickens and the like.
“We were raised to understand in order to earn money, you had to work for it — an old-school philosophy.” Duff said.
When his parents finally found themselves able to lean back after years of early morning wake up, Duff took over, keeping involved in the daily run of the stores — inventories, payrolls, hiring and managing people, and customer service.
Having six stores at one time, the freeze in the 90s and peso devaluations took their tolls on them taking them back to four stores — McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, and the one in Pharr, which is 25 years old.
“I know I didn’t love what I did at first, back when I was just out of high school,” Duff said. “Getting that call at 2 A.M. saying I had to go in wasn’t easy. Through thick-and-thin we have made this business work and I’ve learned to love it. Now I love what I do and find it rewarding. I love being with the customers and I love the “family” part of the business, my employees.”
Every Christmas Eve for the past eight years, Duff and his family have served his “family,” Christmas dinner with games and prizes. Growing from the living room to a tent with 12 tables, it is a meaningful tradition that all appreciate.
When pushed as to why his donuts are the best, he assumed a confident expression as he launched into the rest of the story.
“We make our donuts fresh every day. At midnight, any leftovers go to Day Old and we start new. Nothing gets thrown away. The Day Olds go to Border Mission, which gives them away.”
Though Shipley Donuts was first opened in 1936 in Houston, their donuts have pretty much stayed the same ever since.
“Our business is labor intense, and we have to have a labor force to make these products,” he said. “We tried an automated system years ago, but if any piece of the puzzle gets out of timing, it doesn’t work.”
Shipley donuts are all cut manually. First a donut is put in a proof oven at about 140-180 degrees where it doubles in size. From there it hits the oil where the yeast reacts to the hot 400-degree oil and doubles again, filling up with air. From there, hot glaze is washed over hot donuts, creamy fillings are inserted, all other manner of delectable toppings will dress the sweet treat, and it is placed onto the racks.
But that is still not the end of the tale.
About eight years ago, meat kolaches were added, and now, they are finding millennials have forced them to stretch their drink selections to include frappes, smoothies, and cappuccinos.
Proud of the success they’ve had in making this Shipley Donuts franchise one of the top one percent, Duff is grateful to have forged relationships with the people who have become regular customers.
“We have built it into a powerhouse because we do it the same every day. We work to keep our consistency, quality, and customer service all performing at 100 percent every day.”
Considering expanding the franchise to the mid-Valley, Shipley Donuts recent move to invest in a flour plant in the Carolinas will guarantee product for his growing number of stores, so Duff’s Shipley Donuts franchise will always be able to ensure McAllenites will get their donuts.