“Olde” favorite donut shop finds new life
April 22, 2015
Ye Olde Donut Shoppe may not date back to Medieval England, as the name’s spelling suggests, but it was founded nearly 60 years ago, making it an area institution.
The business has gone through many owners and locations, but the current incarnation has kept the old standards with a new business model.
“The quality of the donuts is exactly the same because it’s basically the same person who’s responsible for production,” said Eric Seeds, owner of Ye Olde Donut Shoppe.
Humberto “Jose” Rodriguez makes the donuts and was the previous owner before Seeds purchased the business. Seeds, however, asked Rodriguez to stay with the shop.
“There’s a lot of man-hours in each day’s donuts. It’s amazing,” Seeds said. He estimated that making the donuts takes 26 man-hours per day.
Rodriguez fries 800-dozen doughnuts each week and makes a fresh batch each day.
“When I start working, I cannot stop,” he said.
He separates the 250 total pounds of dough into one-third for cake donut batter and two-thirds for yeast donuts.
While the yeast rises, he makes the daily cake flavor of cherry, blueberry, lemon, espresso or devil’s food. Then, he rolls and cuts out the yeast donuts, shaping each twist without a machine.
“‘Ye Olde’ is like donuts you make with your hands,” he said, explaining the name.
Seeds said he also uses other old standards, such as using real fudge and maple concentrate.
“We make our own icing. It doesn’t come in a five-gallon bucket like the grocery stores,” he said. “Little things like that make a big difference.”
In 1974, the original owners sold the business to in-laws Sandy and Mike Pyle, who ran the business until Mike retired.
“He told me ‘I want to close the business because I’m really tired,’” Rodriguez said.
Mike passed away in May 2014, and the family connection to the business ended.
“He’s my second father,” Rodriguez said of Pyle, who taught him how to make donuts when he started working there 19 years ago.
During his employment, Rodriguez said Pyle was instrumental in helping gain U.S. citizenship, signing his immigration papers, going with him to Chicago and even offering to legally adopt him.
Pyle owned three shops in the area at one point, with the final shop on Green Street closing briefly in 2004 before Rodriguez re-opened it. It closed permanently and was replaced by Maize Mexican Grill in 2011.
“It actually turned out to be a lot more profitable on the donuts than I’d thought,” Seeds said. He added that he was originally interested in the business for the location on Green Street, not the food.
The donuts can now be purchased at Derald’s Café in the Law Building on 504 E. Pennsylvania Ave., and through Derald’s Food Truck, which Seeds also owns. Espresso Royale and Circle K gas stations also have Ye Olde donuts.
“Everyone’s eating the donuts; they just don’t know it’s ours,” Seeds said.
He sells the donuts commercially and wholesale to churches, car dealerships, fraternities and sororities and residence halls.
“People always go ‘Oh, we didn’t know you were still around,’” he said. “It takes a long time to build up regulars like we have.”
He said that the most popular item was the old-fashioned sour cream donut, which Rodriguez said is not usually found in stores because it is difficult to make.
“Old-fashioned with a shot of espresso. It’s like perfect,” said Aaron Bradley, manager at the Oregon Street Espresso Royale.
He said they had been selling Ye Olde donuts for as long as he had worked there. The coffee shop orders a variety of donuts, including twists, cinnamon rolls, apple fritters and, of course, old-fashioned donuts.
The donuts are simply very good without relying on any frills, he said.
“I kind of wish they’d open up a storefront, to be honest,” Bradley said, adding that there are no real donut shops on campus, and Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t count.
Seeds said his long-term goal for the business is expanding to a shop but is currently working on public awareness of the business.
The delivery van is wrapped with huge pictures of donuts, and Seeds has made accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, where he posts pictures of colorfully-decorated products and sends updates when the van sells at the Urbana Market at the Square.
Ye Olde Donut Shoppe also supported Illini 4000 by donating donuts for a Bike Across America fundraiser, rather than offering them at a reduced rate.
Seeds said many students don’t know about the donuts, and it’s difficult to maintain student regulars because of the four-year turnover.
He said he is glad the community remembers the original shop.
“You get people that remember their parents bringing them into the original Ye Olde Donut shops as kids,” he said, referring to the 1974 business. “Very little has changed in the 30-some-odd years.”