National Donut Day (Friday, June 7) is fast approaching, and Varsity Donuts is poised and ready. “We make sure that everyone who comes in on National Donut Day gets a free donut,” says Kevin Peirce, co-owner of the popular Manhattan, Kansas, donut shop that opened in 2011. “It’s a huge day of sales for us. Everyone wants to share donuts with their families and friends.”
Leah Hyman, another co-owner, points out that Manhattan (home to Kansas State University) has a great donut tradition, and “we’re making more donuts than ever.”
Varsity Donuts is one of those great success stories that attributes steady growth to timing (the shop opened at the tipping point when America’s cupcake craze started tailing off), originality (Varsity’s scratch-made donuts come in 30 crave-able flavors like the peanut butter-and-jelly Larry) and creative merchandising (online sales of Varsity’s “Donuts Make People Happy” T-shirts are hotter than ever). Varsity Donuts was the first donut shop to put eyeballs on donuts, and kids love ‘em.
“We want people to feel connected to the community,” says Hyman, who manages social media efforts that include a robust Facebook following and a stellar 4.8 customer rating. “In a college town, we see customers for four years and then they move away. We like to keep our fans aware of what is going on here.”
Varsity Donuts doesn’t just make donuts; they create them. There are several shaped in squares in creative names like the Flat Tire (with crushed Oreos on top), paying homage to the bakery’s bicycle theme. The Larry (pictured above) is made with peanut butter and jelly icing. And the shop is perhaps best known for the Maple Bacon Bar.
Varsity Donuts occupies an historic building in downtown Aggieville that was once the local drug store and was fashioned after the old Palace Theater in New York City. The current store features the original oak wood cases and art deco floor tile. Customers grab a seat at the long wooden community table or any of the booths to enjoy a donut, freshly made that morning. College students can grab a board game and strike up a Scrabble challenge with their friends, or on certain nights engage in a spirited ping pong match. At Varsity, it’s all about making the customers feel at home. The downtown shop also hosts birthday parties where kids can decorate their own donuts and celebrate a day of special memories.
Co-owner David Sauter says Varsity places a great emphasis on the quality of their donuts — “you can absolutely taste the difference” — and the price points appeal to value-conscious customers who aren’t looking to spend more than $50. You can buy a dozen classic donuts at Varsity for 12 bucks.
Kansas State is a huge college sports town, so it’s no surprise that big-time sports announcers like Brent Musburger have learned about the local donut legend and come to check it out. Musburger loved Varsity so much that he often mentioned the donut shop on national TV. Varsity tipped its cap to the TV announcer and the entire ESPN crew during a 2015 visit by creating the Musburger: a chocolate chocolate Opal with creamy coffee fluff, chocolate coffee drizzle, jimmies and a few espresso beans to top it off.
There’s also a Varsity Food Truck out back that operates late nights when college students are hungry for glazed donuts, Bacon Bomb fritters and Mac ‘N Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. They built a patio around the truck in the summer of 2012 to accommodate the late night crowds in Aggieville. To add to the festiveness, there’s a projector mounted on the dashboard of the food truck to play cartoons and YouTube videos on the brick wall of the building next door.
“We are fortunate to have a back parking lot where the food truck is parked, and sales are going strong,” Hyman says. “It totally works together with our retail store.”