A sweeter side of life

Mini Doughnut Factory has unique doughnut toppings such as Rice Krispies, Fruity Pebbles, bacon bits and pop rocks. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Anyone living in Florida with a pulse, a sweet tooth and social media has probably seen these tiny treats all over their feed by now. Nestled on South Dale Mabry Highway, in a muted gray building that is far too easy to pass if the driver isn’t paying close enough attention, is the Mini Doughnut Factory.

The dessert eatery, owned by Patrick & Zezura Ruddell, can be described by social media aficionados as ‘Instagrammable’.  The bite-sized confectioneries come in many unique and visually-pleasing variations including Fruity Pebbles, which is topped with bits of the cereal; cotton candy, that touts colorful pink and blue pop rocks; and sweet pig, decorated with bacon and maple icing.

They also sell doughnut shakes, doughnut sundaes and their own in-house cold brew coffee.

The Ruddells have been together for over 20 years and have owned several businesses together, including a science fiction website. Before opening the shop, they were real estate investors and had flipped 700 houses in the 10 years they were in that field.

“Real estate is a very cyclical business. We were looking for something that’s recession-proof, and sweet treats are that,” Patrick said. “When you’re celebrating, you want a sweet treat. When you’re having a bad day, you want a sweet treat to help you feel better.”

They decided to look around their neighborhood of Wesley Chapel for new ideas. What they found was five Dunkin’ Donuts within a five mile radius of their house, but thought that it wasn’t being made to its full potential.

“As an entrepreneur, you look for a product that can be done better, and doughnuts is that,” Patrick said. “We figured we could do doughnuts better than Dunkin’ Donuts, and we did.”

They originally wanted the flagship store to be in Wesley Chapel, as they’re already involved in the community there, but they couldn’t find a space.

That’s when Patrick had the idea to Google the top-10 doughnut places in Tampa and email them the line “I’m interested in buying. Are you interested in selling your business?”

Perk’s Donut Bar, which had just opened the year before, showed interest, so the Ruddells went to visit the location a few days later.

“It wound up to be the perfect space. They even have some of the similar equipment that we needed. It was kind of like it was meant for (us),” Zezura said. “The floors were how we had envisioned, they had a lot of the equipment that we were going to buy. We loved the place and we worked out a deal and moved forward with that one.”

They spent three weeks at Perk’s, working in the shop and learning how to use the equipment for themselves.

Mini Doughnut factory opened on November 15, 2015, at 2109 S Dale Mabry Hwy.

They never expected to gain the traction and following they did.

“It took over like wildfire,” Patrick said. “Social media is everything, so the minute it got posted to social media … It just went quick.”

He also attributes their popularity to a loyal customer base. He calls the store’s patrons “advocates on social media.”

There were even a few who contacted Charley Belcher, a feature reporter at FOX 13, and told him about the new business. That’s how the Ruddells and their store ended up on TV.

The store kept getting busier and busier. During the first few months, both Patrick and Zezura found themselves working about 80-to-100 hours per week each. Naturally, this took a toll on their personal lives.

“At some point, it actually started to drive a wedge in between us and we actually were separated for a while,” Zezura said.

She went on to say that at a certain point, they came to the realization that they were too good of a team together.

“She’s always been my best friend,” Patrick said. “Even when we separated, she was my best friend.”

They both still believe that, while stressful, owning the business has been a joyful experience. Even with working the 80 hour weeks, they described it as fun.

Over a year later, the couple has made plans to expand to four more stores.

“We didn’t come to that decision,” Patrick said. “The customers did.”

After receiving feedback from travelers who came from St. Petersburg, Pinellas county, Wesley Chapel, Orlando and Jacksonville, they believed this to be the next best step. 

They have already signed a lease for the location in St. Petersburg, and they are in the process of negotiating a lease in Wesley Chapel. They are looking at Orlando for the fourth store, but the fifth is still up in the air, with Miami being in the forefront of their options. 

The goal is to have all four open within the next year, with the St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel locations finished by the end of 2017.

While they don’t offer sales, the Ruddells love teaming up with various charities. On National Doughnut Day, instead of giving out free doughnuts, they pledged a percentage of their proceeds to All Children’s Hospital, and ended up donating $1,000.

Mini Doughnut Factory has been presented with multiple awards, including ‘Business of the Year’ by the South Chamber of Commerce, Creative Loafing’s ‘Best of the Bay – Best Doughnuts’ and ‘Best of the Bay – Best New Business’.

The Ruddells pin their success on their customer service, as they say they treat all customers like family. They’ve become friends with many people who frequent their store, even going on double dates with a few. They believe every customer should be appreciated.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a $3 order or a $300 order,” Patrick said. “They all count.”