In the kitchen of Jupiter Coffee and Donuts in Fairfield, Ohio, co-owner Cindy Wallis proudly shows off a feathery circle of sweetness — warm, luscious, and oozing with classic glazed-donut flavor.
Certainly, this is donut heaven, and it’s just a small serving of the nirvana available on the Butler County Donut Trail, 13 shops that celebrate the specialized culinary craft. For many, the southwestern part of the state has become the sweet pastry’s Promised Land.
“Donuts sell here. They just sell,” says Terri Niederman, owner of the Donut Spot, also in Fairfield. “It’s unbelievable.”
Nine shops, in cooperation with the Butler County Convention and Visitors Bureau, launched the trail in 2016 to boost sales and draw visitors. Participants secure a Donut Trail Passport and have it stamped at each location. A completed passport earns the bearer a souvenir T-shirt.
It didn’t take long for the idea to pay off. Tracy Kocher, with the visitors bureau, says a small group of travelers came to her office two days after the trail opened, bearing completed passports. “That group comes back every year,” she says.
The trail has successfully tapped tourists’ sweet tooths. Kocher says the number of passports handed out or downloaded has topped 400,000, and more than 25,000 have finished the trail. Visitors have come from all 50 states and 22 countries.
The bureau has a “donut concierge” line that visitors can call for assistance, including setting up itineraries and finding places to stay.
“We’ve seen people completing the trail as an activity before a family member is deployed overseas, or to celebrate the completion of cancer treatment.
We’ve seen wedding parties, team building, and school trips,” Kocher says. “It’s family friendly, anybody can do it, and everybody loves a donut.”
The trail runs from Middletown in the northeast to Oxford in the west, through Hamilton and neighboring Fairfield, and to West Chester in the southeast. You can pick up a passport at any of the stops.
Wallis established Jupiter in 2014 with her husband, Gregg Trueb, both Miami University graduates. When two marry from that college, it’s known as a “Miami Merger,” and they created a donut to mark that occasion — the Miami Maple Merger, crafted with maple fluff and candied pecans.
Wallis relates that story as she’s turning over raised donuts in hot oil. She shocks bystanders by suddenly screaming out, “Hot glaze!”
“That way, the staff out in front knows that the donuts are about to be glazed, and we can start selling them now,” she says.
Across town at the Donut Spot, Niederman has been making donuts for two decades. She says the trail has been good for business, although locals don’t need any help finding her. On a recent Valentine’s Day she sold more than 1,500 specialty donuts in addition to many dozens of the glazed variety.
“Butler County has a lot of donut shops per capita,” she says. “It’s unbelievable the number of donuts we can run through.”
Niederman’s sister, Diana Ramsey, owns another stop on the trail: Kelly’s Bakery in Hamilton, where the specialty of the house is Kelly Bread — essentially a huge, pull-apart glazed donut with cinnamon icing.
About 31/2 miles southwest, Mimi’s Donuts and Bakery is tucked in a nondescript strip center adjacent to the Millville Cemetery, where owner Sherry Richardson opened the store in 2015 after retiring as a police officer. Mimi’s makes a tempting cake-style treat, filled with peanut butter and covered with chocolate icing and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pieces.
While many of the Donut Trail stops are nestled in quiet retail centers, there’s nothing subtle about Holtman’s — the West Chester location of the Cincinnati-based chain that’s on the trail is surrounded by huge retail developments, such as Top Golf and Ikea, as well as several chain hotels and restaurants.
Holtman’s has been around for 60 years and has earned its strong reputation by making everything from scratch each day. You can watch much of the magic happen through a large window. Holtman’s isn’t afraid to top their donuts — with bacon, children’s cereal, sprinkles, you name it.
While it’s possible to complete the trail in a day, travelers along the trail don’t have to finish the circuit in one trip to earn the T-shirt. Check Facebook pages for daily hours of your planned stops before you go, and remember that some of the shops will close early if they sell out that day’s goodies.