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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Mini Doughnut Factory makes major inroads during championship

TAMPA — When the second quarter began in Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium, a group of media members rustled to attention in the press box.

Was it a bone-crushing run by Alabama's Bo Scarbrough?

Was it a big passing play by Clemson's Deshaun Watson?

Actually, it was an announcement that samples were now available from Tampa's Mini Doughnut Factory, a wildly successful business that just celebrated its first anniversary.

Continuing a tradition, CFP senior director of communications and brand management Gina Lehe searched for a local company to spotlight for the national media. During a planning visit to Tampa, she stumbled upon the Mini Doughnut Factory. One taste … and she was hooked.

It's already a familiar story.

The freshly created made-to-order doughnuts, available with a variety of toppings and icings, are usually ordered in a three-pack because of their smaller size. They have prompted witheringly long lines at the South Tampa location across the street from Plant High School.

Owners Patrick Ruddell and his wife, Zuzera, are planning four new locations this year — North Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando and a spot to be determined by the company's most loyal customers.

After that, they have designs on building the concept into approximately 50 stores within a few years, stating that the Mini Doughnut Factory's expansion and potential franchising might only be limited by their imaginations.

"We believe we're doing this differently than anyone else,'' Ruddell said. "Three of our doughnuts are equivalent to what you'd get in a large doughnut. They're fresh, made right before your eyes. You get a variety of flavors. This isn't a frozen product. It's fresher and better.

"Who doesn't like doughnuts. We think doughnuts make you happy.''

They made everyone happy Monday night, including ESPN personnel and journalists from major newspapers around the country.

"I had never seen a concept like this before,'' Lehe said. "I just loved the presentation and branding.

"I suppose you could throw out some random cookies or sweets and everyone would like that. But this is a way to give exposure to a local company, one with a fascinating story. That brings a different element to the game.''

When the initial CFP title-game was held in Arlington, Texas, during 2014, Lehe brought in a 7-Eleven Slurpee machine because those drinks were invented in the Dallas area.

Last season, with the game in Glendale, Ariz., the CFP showcased Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, which began in Tempe, Ariz.

"It's a way to have a dessert item that doesn't conflict or compete with the food services already in the venue,'' Lehe said. "We can tell the story of the company to the media and it adds a fun little touch to game day. As we move our event around the country, we want to continue to showcase these products and companies.''

Ruddell said he has been a real-estate investor for the past two decades, estimating that he has "flipped'' more than 600 single-family residences in the Tampa Bay area, giving him the financial flexibility to try his hand at entrepreneurship.

He kept coming back to doughnuts.

He always loved to bake. Through trial and error — with the help of taste-testing friends — he found some successful recipes. But unlike just another doughnut shop, he found the fresh mini-doughnut concept to be a unique winner.

"We were looking for a sweet business that would help us diversify and allow our children to work with us," Ruddell said. "I think we hit on a good thing.''

On Monday night, the Mini Doughnut Factory received some national attention from reporters who tasted samples, then reported their delight on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"It was a win-win, a no-brainer,'' Lehe said. "We love to have elements unique to the local market in all aspects of our game. This one certainly checked all the boxes.''

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