10 May 2024

Fifty years of fresh donuts keep customers coming back

| John Thistleton
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Natalie Gray offers more than 30 flavours but chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and caramel remain the Donut Shop’s top sellers – although pineapple-flavoured donuts are showing promise. Photo: John Thistleton.

An irresistible aroma of freshly cooked donuts has wafted down Russell Lane into the main street of Goulburn for almost 50 years.

Natalie Gray, who bought the business in May last year with her husband Scott, believes the milestone will be reached in August.

Gillian Russell worked briefly for the American couple who launched the business in 1974. She does not remember their names, only that he was a lecturer at the Goulburn Teachers College.

Lloyd Charles, who worked in Goulburn wool stores for 30 years and bagged flour at Conolly’s Mill in the off-season, bought the donut business in 1975 with his wife Lillian for $3000.

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“They put it up for sale pretty cheap and with the wife I thought, we might have a go at that,” the 91-year-old former donut-maker said.

“They wanted more but I said I had been battling on between jobs and it was all I could afford.”

In a little shop, takings were lean for a while – then the smell and taste of fresh donuts caught on like a grassfire.

“We had to learn a lot ourselves,” Lloyd said. “They (the previous owners) had plain donuts. I iced them all sorts of colours – chocolate, caramel, strawberry. They used to sell like anything. I would whip the cream up and put some cream on top and, oh, people used to love them too.”

Lloyd Charles remembers when Goulburn eisteddfods and stage shows in the nearby Lilac Time Hall and aftermath of the Anzac Day march left queues of customers out of the Donut Shop and into Russell Lane. Photo: John Thistleton.

His daughter Michelle, and later daughter-in-law Sandra and casual staff covering lunch time and peak periods, helped serve queues of people licking their lips. They expanded into a bigger shop next door in the lane.

Lilac Time processions emptied waves of people into the lane and shop, buying more than 1000 donuts in a day.

“They would be lined up outside and you were flat out,” Lloyd said. “The poor old machine never stopped.”

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Marian College students loved his older donuts discounted to five cents and marble-sized specialty balls. Using a plunger, he dropped a dollop of mixture into the hot oil.

“I put 10 or 12 in a bag and sold them for 10 cents and oh, they were a goer. They would grab them for school,” he said.

From seven in the morning until six in the evening, six days a week, turnover sizzled. It didn’t cool until the Hume Highway bypassed Goulburn in 1992. A few years later, gallstones and stomach ulcers hastened Lloyd’s decision to sell the business.

“It was hard, I would go in at 7 o’clock in the morning to heat the oil. It was often half-past-six (in the evening) before I could get away after cleaning the place up ready for the next day,” he said.

“You were on your feet all the time. If you had a cuppa, you would be drinking, stopping, then serving someone.”

Lloyd Charles in his shop in the days when the Workers Club would call ahead of coaches arriving in Goulburn and send someone down to collect five or six dozen donuts for the passengers. Photo: Charles family.

Lloyd and Lillian sold the shop in 1995 to sisters from Parkesbourne, Dawn Patton and Gaye Lee. Since then several successive owners have followed, one changing the name to Deliciously Wicked.

When the shop’s Sydney owner planned to close it last year, Natalie, a pharmacy assistant for 16 years, began her new business venture while Scott, head baker at Bryant’s Pies, helped.

On her day off, former staff member Kate Bell showed Natalie how to make donuts and coffee, as did Lyn Hornbrook, who continued working at the shop after it changed hands.

Natalie remembers the donuts from her school days. Along with classmates at Goulburn High School, she also visited the shop as part of their retail studies course.

A month after the Grays bought their donut venture, ‘national donut day’ surprised Natalie when large orders came in, many from major employers treating their staff to mark the day.

The shop is already taking orders for this year’s ‘national donut day’ on 7 June, a promotion that began in America in the 1930s.

Scott Gray takes a donut out of the fryer at the Donut Shop. School holidays, cinema crowds and fundraising keep the business busy. Photo: John Thistleton.

On an unrelated day, the NSW Police Academy which trains recruits in Goulburn ordered 150 donuts (for stakeout training perhaps?).

Opening Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4 pm, the shop remains a favourite for school students. Primary school children’s favourite are blue donuts.

Natalie savours the experience of owning the shop.

“I didn’t think I could do it, couldn’t make coffee, couldn’t make a donut, but now I can, I enjoy it,” she said, before excusing herself and serving a mother with two excited little children.

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My wife and I,Teachers College students in mid 1970s, we remember Jean Stafford a lovely American lady who lectured in Language Arts starting the donut shop. The reason I recall in Mrs Stafford’s words “A college town jut had to have a donut shop” , her son came out from the US during his college break and helped out in the shop making the most wonderful “American style “ ice cream cones.

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