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Country Kitchen Donuts: An Amazing, Old-Fashioned Doughnut Shop in Walpole, Mass.

Country Kitchen Donuts, Walpole MA

Doughnuts are made on the premises daily at Country Kitchen Donuts in Walpole, Mass.

by Eric Hurwitz. Article updated on 11/20/16

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A recent Sunday morning scene at Country Kitchen Donuts in Walpole revealed a wonderfully familiar, classic slice of small town Americana.

Parents waited in line for doughnuts and coffee while their young kids jumped up and down in anticipation of bringing home a box of their favorite flavors. Elderly men -- some wearing 1920s-style flat caps -- sat together on old-fashioned stools at the diner-like counter either conversing passionately about the news of the world or stoically bonding together in virtual silence, just happy to be with each other and away from the faster-paced world on the other side of the window. Families and friends, some coming right from church, convened at several dining area tables to also enjoy time together before taking on a mountain of homework, deadlines, commitments and other responsibilities before the impending Monday work and school days.

Looking across the old-fashioned Country Kitchen dining room and take-out area begged for answers to questions that seem eternal: What is it about doughnuts and coffee that bring together people? What is it about the aromas of doughnuts and coffee that elicit
good feelings? Why do doughnuts and coffee continue to appeal to a cross section of people and generations in a world that has become more polarized?

These questions might not ever be fully answered, but one certainty remains: from the proliferation of doughnuts shops in the 1940s to this very day, these small business treasures have always tapped into the heart, soul and taste buds of a local’s way of life.

Chocolate sprinkles donuts from Country Kitchen Donuts in Walpole, Mass.
Mouthwatering chocolate sprinkle donuts from Country Kitchen Donuts.

Country Kitchen Donuts serves as a strong example of the quintessential, small business doughnut shop. Country Kitchen has been in business nearly 50 years with its core recipe for success virtually unchanged from the beginning -- that is, creating delicious hand-cut doughnuts and serving them with a good cup of coffee and a commitment to salt-of-the-earth, efficient service.

John Stevens, his dad Jim Stevens and Uncle George Stevens bought Country Kitchen Donuts in 1979. George soon left the business and Jim eventually retired from ownership, thus leaving John with the option to buy out his dad’s half of the business. Having worked mostly in the back room while his dad was “a jack of all trades,” John had a challenge ahead as the sole owner.  John had bakers’ DNA in his blood, however, when growing up in the Worcester and Albany, New York areas where his dad managed sales for Table Talk Pies.

Stevens, with his experience at Country Kitchen Donuts and possessing an associate’s degree in restaurant and hotel management from Schenectady Community College in Schenectady, New York, worked countless hours to turn the Walpole doughnut shop into something special. Based on a foundation of hard work and sticking to what has worked best, Stevens ultimately created a local landmark and household name business.
Country Kitchen Donuts, Walpole MA
Country Kitchen Donuts has been a staple in the Walpole area for nearly 50 years.

 “We have survived,” said Stevens, 58, who arrives to work as early as 3:45 a.m. “We have a quality product. We have friendly, good service. We get to know customers by first name. Everyone knows each other. We have some great employees and I take great care in treating them well -- like the way I would want to be treated... I love people and customers. It is a pleasant place here. I try to make it a good day for everyone and don’t come in grumpy. I treat the kids that work here like my kids.”

While tried-and-true favorites like jelly and lemon-filled (“we use the pastry lemon, not the ‘doughnut’ lemon filling,” said Stevens), chocolate covered, honey dip and cruller-style doughnuts -- as well as coffee cake muffins, whoopie pies, danish, turnovers and the New England Coffee brand -- remaining favorites, Stevens knows that keeping up with customer preferences is also a key to remaining a viable business. As an example, Country Kitchen got town approval to serve egg sandwiches, which will start in a few months. They also specialize in seasonal baked goods and coffee like the fall time pumpkin whoopie pies and winter egg nog coffee. Ninety five percent of the products at Country Kitchen are made in its own kitchen, according to Stevens.

Filling the donuts at Country Kitchen Donuts, Walpole MA
Jaime Rea fills the donuts with jelly at Country Kitchen Donuts.

“It’s the best little place locally,” said Steve DeCampo, who works across the street as a mechanic at Main Street Mobil. “I love it -- the friendly atmosphere and tasty treats.”

Many of the older staff have been employed at Country Kitchen for years. Manager Cheryl Jennings has worked at Country Kitchen for 12 years, Roberta Page for nearly the same amount of time and Jaime Rea for several. The queen of long-time employment, however, remains 84-year-old Madeline Taylor, who has worked at Country Kitchen for about 30 years. She enjoys waking up early in the morning (Country Kitchen Donuts officially opens every day of the year at 5 a.m.) and still has a quick and purposeful step to her walk, as well as an efficient service style and some quick quips.

“I like people,”  said Taylor. “I get along with everyone. If they don’t like me, they move out (laughs). I do have some very old friends -- old like me. Some are 90 or so... They (Country Kitchen) give me day old doughnuts and I bring them over to the senior center. They still like me there.”

Taylor, who was born during the Great Depression, is a lifelong resident, once living in the Ginley home (today, it’s a funeral home) and working at the Kendall Mills factory complex where she said, “I probably made the diapers you wore.” She was married 57 years (her husband died several years ago) and has five children. Having worked a career at Country Kitchen all those years -- she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like everything about Country Kitchen,” said Taylor, who still has a vibrant sense of humor and sense of irony. “John is good. The girls are good. Sometimes they give me a hard time because I am so old. I want everything perfect and they know they have to work with this old lady who wants it that way.”

Madeline Taylor has worked at Country Kitchen Donuts in Walpole for many years.
Country Kitchen owner John Stevens holds Madeline Taylor's job application from about 30 years ago.

Rea, grew up in Walpole but moved away from her small town hometown many years ago to pursue an education in criminology. After a long time away -- primarily living in Florida -- Rea returned to her hometown as a single parent living a few blocks from Country Kitchen. She needed a job.

“I could walk to work at Country Kitchen, so I started there” said Rea, a self-taught cook who once prepared a meal for Julia Child at a restaurant she had been employed at in Providence’s Federal Hill. “It is almost like family here. Working here, to me, is a fun thing to do. John has had a great going with his small business. He has survived and thrived in this business for a long time.”

She added, “The regulars who come in here have done so as long as Madeline has been here. They can sit here is silence. They enjoy it and are comfortable over cups of coffee. It’s like meditation with caffeine.”

“The work ethic carries on,” said Stevens, of his staff. “It’s hard to replace that kind of work ethic. I see promise in the young kids -- and they do a great job -- but it is the older employees that set the standard. They have been doing it for such a long time.”

Britanny McGraw, 21, has worked at Country Kitchen for seven years and is one of the stellar younger employees, according to Stevens. She recently graduated Mt. Ida College in Newton with a degree in dental hygiene, but has happily remained loyal to her job while going through high school and college.

“I like working with the customers here,” said McGraw.  They have had a huge impact on my life, you know like seeing all these kids grow up. And John has been so good to work for. I call him a second dad.”

McGraw and other young workers have, for the most part, fared well at Country Kitchen, according to John.

“We get nice kids working here,” said Stevens. “Sometimes we find out through word-of-mouth who might be a good candidate to work here. There are college girls who started as freshmen in high school. Some that don’t work here anymore send me Christmas cards and come in to visit. I feel that this is their first job and if you don’t start out well at the first job, it’s going to be tough in the long run. It’s very important to me that they are happy here and do a good job.”

Sunday morning crowds gather at Country Kitchen Donuts in Walpole MA
A younger staff ably services the crowds on a Sunday morning at Country Kitchen Donuts.

Behind the scenes, Stevens and his bakers go through the painstaking process of hand making the doughnuts, and heating the baked goods at an exact temperature and time while taking into consideration seasonal temps that also affect the final product. It’s hard work to meet customer demand while paying attention to food detail, as Country Kitchen  Donuts sells about 50 dozen doughnuts on the weekday and up to 150 dozen on the weekend, according to Stevens.

“To be consistent, you have to go through a few seasons to perfect the art of doughnut making,” said Stevens. “My bakers have seen it all. We just make sure we do it right.”

Stevens also renovated Country Kitchen by himself a few years back, replacing the knotty pine walls with new woodwork as well as putting in floor tile, and thus following in the footsteps of his dad’s “jack-of-all-trade” skill set.

Stevens has seen it all throughout his 37-year career in the food business, including the thrill of experiencing generations coming to his doughnut shop and hiring, through the years, generations of locals. Married since to 1981 to his wife Tova and with three grown up children -- Trevor, Ryland (who worked at Country Kitchen many years) and Olivia -- Stevens’ deep ties to Walpole as an adopted hometown and a place to do business has resulted in a blessed life.

“We have had the same jobs out married lives,” said Stevens, of he and Tova. “That has been good for our quality of life. We live a half mile up the road (from Country Kitchen).

In the doughnuts business, some business are too gung-ho too soon and they burn out after a few years. It’s all about pacing and consistency in turning out a good product. I love my small town community. People here in Walpole understand small business and we are glad they support us. I feel good to work this job and look forward to more.”

Country Kitchen Donuts is located at 745 Main St., Walpole MA. Tel. (508) 668-4044.

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