Can eating a doughnut be a religious experience? Some might say no, but "Praise the Lord!" is just one of the many positive, though perhaps overzealous, reactions Howard Lev remembers getting from customers shortly after opening his first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts franchise in New York City in 1996.
A longtime favorite in the South, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are making it in the big city, too, thanks to the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who runs the business with his father, Mel, 57; brother Russell, 32; and cousin John Faber, 30. Business is booming, and the likes of supermodel Tyra Banks and hockey great Wayne Gretzky have even dropped in for a bite.
Mel and Howard had worked together before, at a men's shirt company that Mel owned. But Howard didn't really care for the garment industry. "When I [told my dad] I was unhappy with my job, he said `Look, instead of just quitting, why don't you stay with it while we look for something [else we can do] together?' "
The search ended when Mel took a trip to Mississippi to attend a friend's college graduation. There, his friend insisted he try a Krispy Kreme doughnut before leaving. Despite the sweltering June heat, people were lined up outside the store. And when Howard brought four dozen doughnuts back to his hotel room for friends and relatives, the treats disappeared within 10 minutes.
Upon returning to New York, Mel contacted Krispy Kreme's corporate office, and soon, father and son were as hooked on the company as they were on the doughnuts. Because Krispy Kreme sells franchises by entire regions rather than single locations, the Levs decided to buy the franchise rights for New York, where they currently operate 10 stores.
The family's Krispy Kreme locations grossed more than $6 million in sales in 1998. What's the tastiest part of the business for Howard, other than the religiously devoted customers and the occasional celebrity guest? "The number of employees we've brought on board as hourly employees who are now managers for us," Howard says. "We do a pretty good job [with the retention rate]."
Krispy Kreme is currently developing franchises in Omaha, Nebraska, Las Vegas and Southern California, with start-up costs ranging from $500,000 to $600,000. For more information, call (800) 334-1243 or visit http://www.krispykreme.com.