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Vancouver Krispy Kreme opens to slim lines

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2004

VANCOUVER, Wash. The spotlight's searing beam roamed the ink black morning sky. Off-duty state troopers patrolled the parking lot maintaining order in the drive-through. And inside Clark County's first Krispy Kreme, the crew readied for the opening-day rush on a recent Tuesday morning.

''Hey, everybody, when I yell Krispy, you say Kreme,'' shouted one young employee. ''Krispy!''

''Kreme!''

''When I say hot, you say doughnut!'' she yelled. ''Hot!''

''Doughnut!''

The rally cry subsided. The doors opened at 5:30 a.m. and the crush of customers waiting to devour one of the doughnut giant's sweet concoctions ... well, it was more of a small gathering. A few dozen people stood in line and about the same number of vehicles lined up in the drive-through. By 6 a.m., there was a minimal wait for customers inside and outside of the store. Traffic did increase throughout the morning commute.

That was no surprise to Gerard Centioli, president and chief executive officer for KremeWorks LLC. Centioli's company owns the development rights for Krispy Kreme stores in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska and British Columbia. He said the grand-opening buzz diminishes with subsequent store locations in an area, but that sales increase overall.

The pattern was holding true for the Vancouver store, the third in the Portland metro region. The first opened last summer in Clackamas, Ore., where people spent days camped outside the door waiting for the first doughnut to roll off the assembly line. Hordes of customers were a constant for weeks. Centioli said the location was really serving the entire state and Southwest Washington.

A month later, Oregon's second Krispy Kreme bakery opened in Beaverton to smaller crowds.

All told, the company has about 280 stores in 37 states. What started as a small Southern chain of doughnut shops has exploded into an almost cult-like following as the business has spread nationally. Sales for 2003 were $491.5 million. The company does virtually no advertising, instead relying on word-of-mouth testimonials and media coverage to announce new store openings.

The modest gathering in Vancouver is actually expected to entice customers who might have shunned previous openings.

Chris Banham gave little thought to how many people arrived early other than that he was going to be the first. The 23-year-old Clark College student checked the store at 40 hours before the opening and saw no line. He checked again with 30 hours to go still nobody around. At 23 hours until kickoff, Banham figured it was time to make his move.

Armed with a chair, tent, sleeping bag and school books, Banham claimed the first spot in line at 6:30 a.m. Monday and began his wait. ''I was very determined,'' he said.

Bob Guenther wasn't as confident with his son, 6-year-old Michael. Father and son watched the store being built during weekend jaunts to the nearby Home Depot. They talked about how the weekly ritual would change to include a trip through the bakery.

The two talked again Monday night about getting up for the opening, but Bob Guenther figured Michael's resolve would weaken by morning. After all, it took quite a bit of shaking and cajoling to get the youngster up on Christmas morning.

So at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday, Guenther quietly walked into his son's room and whispered into the child's ear, ''Krispy Kreme.''

Michael's eyes flipped open. No need for needling.

Not long after the store opened, Michael was in his father's arms. His gray sweat pants were tucked into blue rubber boots with green trim. A paper Krispy Kreme baker's hat was perched atop Michael's head, the string from a helium balloon clutched in his left hand as he and his father watched doughnuts trundle along the conveyor belt. Michael's sisters, Taylor, 10, and Nicole, 12, passed on the early-morning doughnut run.

''I guess this is a male bonding experience,'' Bob Guenther said.



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