- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - The sweet smell of warm dough started seeping through the glass door and window panes early Tuesday morning. As the neon “Hot Now” sign flickered at 6 a.m., signaling zero hour, the line of customers snaking around the Krispy Kreme building numbered 125.

Doughnut enthusiasts such as Brandon Bell deemed the freezing temperatures and hours-long wait a small sacrifice.

“What is there not to love about a doughnut? There is nothing bad about a doughnut. They are sweet, warm, fluffy and comforting. They melt in your mouth. They are like liquid bacon,” Bell said.

With the opening of the doughnut shop on the Beltline, the north Alabama market for creating the humble sweet treats became more crowded as Krispy Kreme joined Shrewsberry Donuts in Moulton, Little Lovin Oven Bakery & Deli in Decatur, Daylight Donuts in Decatur and Hartselle, and K-May Donuts & Coffee House in Decatur and Athens.

But there’s room for more because the demand for the fried rings of dough exists, analysts said.

According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, in 2014 convenience stores sold 391 million donuts totaling $580 million. That ranks higher than the amount of jerky, pretzels, popcorn, cheese snacks and sunflower seeds. From June 2014 to June 2015, unit sales of doughnuts at the convenience stores rose 6 percent.

The construction of a Dunkin Donuts in Athens and plans for a franchise in Decatur signal the market’s confidence in the humble treat. Take away the sprinkles, sugars, powders, fillings and glazes, and at the core a doughnut is a fried ring of dough. Nothing fancy.

The quaint, comfort food has been pleasing eaters for centuries. Enjoyment of the treat called a doughnut in America, Balushahi in India, sufganiyah in Israel, Berliner in Germany, dona in Mexico and zeppole in Italy spans cultures, nationalities and economics.

In 2010, Chy Khoun brought the Cambodian doughnut-making method to Decatur. K-May Donuts & Coffee House, managed by Sreyneang Ming, makes thousands of doughnuts a day, spanning from fruit flavors to chocolate to maple. The Athens shop opened in December 2010.

Where credit for creation of the doughnut lies depends on who is asked. It could be the Dutch immigrants, Russian exiles, Native Americans or a New England ship captain’s mother who used spices from her son’s cargo in a fried dough.

The doughnut started gaining popularity in the United States in the early 20th century, after Salvation Army volunteers, or “doughnut lassies,” introduced the food to American soldiers in World War I. To make the doughnuts, they used helmets as deep fryers. The simple, quick and tasty treat was placed in the hands of immigrants on Ellis Island and of men and women suffering from hunger during the Great Depression.

Bell’s first taste of a doughnut came as a third-grader at St. Ann’s Catholic School.

“It was 50-cent doughnut day. I’ve been hooked ever since,” Bell said.

The Decatur man earned the coveted first spot in line by arriving at Krispy Kreme on the Beltline at 11:55 p.m. Sunday.

“I got off work at 11:30 p.m. and came straight here. If I could have been here sooner, I would have,” said Bell, who as customer No. 1, got to turn on the “Hot Now” sign and will receive a dozen free doughnuts every week for a year.

Gregory and Kim Jones, of Decatur, joined Bell on Monday morning as customers No. 2 and 4.

“I had to have an EKG on Monday but sent my husband on without me. We’ve had a great time out here,” Kim Jones said.

Surviving on heated hand warmers, ready-to-eat meals and pop-up tents, the customers camped out overnight.

“We’ve gotten to know each other real well, which I wasn’t expecting. I thought people would give me dirty looks for being the first in line,” Bell said.

Whether a touch of jealousy existed or not, Bell, the Joneses and the other 100 customers found a common bond: doughnuts. Although they may not agree on what type.

“My first choice is the original glazed. If I had to order something else, it would be the chocolate icing,” Bell said.

“I love the original glazed, too, but the wife here, I think she goes more for chocolate,” Gregory Jones said.

Kim Jones shook her head side to side and admitted, “It really doesn’t matter. I like them all.”

Since bakers introduced the first simple fried ring of dough to the public, the food has evolved with the times. It has been baked instead of fried, topped with glazes and sugars, filled with jellies and creams, miniaturized to the size of a golf ball and crossbred with a croissant.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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