On Fat Tuesday, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and donuts bubbling in the hot-oil fryer wafted through the air at Donna’s Donuts in Flint Township. Piled high from floor to ceiling were boxes containing dozens of paczki. Pronounced PUNCH-key, these calorie-laden indulgences are Polish jelly-filled donuts, traditionally served before the disciplinary fasting of Lent. The especially rich dough – containing eggs, fat, sugar and milk – are shaped into flattened spheres, deep fried and filled with a variety of fruit and crème fillings, then sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Alicia Gibbons, owner of Donna’s Donuts said they made at least 1,200 dozen paczki this year. And preparing for Paczki Day is quite the undertaking, with 20 hardworking employees working around the clock to fill orders. On Monday, March 3 there was already a sign on the door that said, Closed on Wednesday. “My staff deserves a nice rest for all the work they did,” Alicia laughed. Donna’s Donuts has a 36-year history as rich as their paczki, and today they continue to enjoy a loyal customer following. Alicia’s grandparents, Sue and David Deering, purchased the business from the original owners several years ago, and her father, John Gibbons, was at the helm until his passing last summer. Alicia is now responsible for carrying on the tradition.
The lines of customers were long on Fat Tuesday, but they waited patiently for their orders. Longtime employee Cindy Smith greeted customers from behind the counter with a big smile. “It’s a big happy family here,” she says. “And we really love our customers.” One longtime patron, Darrell Stuart, volunteered to help during the crazy-busy morning and sat at a corner table busily folding boxes in preparation for the orders that needed filling. “I was born and raised in Flint and I’ve been coming here for 50 years!” he exclaimed.
Donna’s large variety of paczki and donuts are well worth the wait as Alicia follows the original recipe used since the day the shop first opened. “Our nutty donuts are famous,” laughed Alicia. “People come from all over to get a dozen of our nuttys!” With the Lenten season coming to a close, Alicia says she’s looking forward to seeing many of her customers head back to Donna’s for an overdue sweet indulgence.
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL GLEASON