Wesley Chapel resident Patrick Ruddell doesn’t wait for many things, and he knows what he wants.
So, when he found himself tossing and turning in bed one night three years ago mulling his next move, he got up and opened his laptop at 3 a.m. and emailed three of the top donut shops in Tampa with one simple question:
“Do you want to sell? I want to buy.”
“That’s all I sent,’’ Patrick says. “Three emails with the exact same phrase.”
In 12 hours, he had a response, and just two hours after that, he had a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Three days later, he was at Perks Donut Bar in South Tampa.
“I loved it,’’ he says. “It was perfect.”
And with that, Patrick and his wife Zezura were on their way to becoming the King and Queen of Doughnuts in the Tampa Bay area.
Mini Doughnuts, to be exact.
The Wesley Chapel couple, easily recognizable around the area for his distinguished beard and her wide smile, have created a succulent sensation with their Mini Doughnut Factory, which opened in November 2015 on S. Dale Mabry Hwy. in South Tampa and became a social media wonder on Instagram and Facebook, thanks to a smart and aggressive strategy and a fresh twist on a pretty standard product.
The Mini Doughnut Factory makes its popular, double-bite-sized donuts to order in a small, 1,200-sq.ft. space in a nondescript strip center with bad parking and, almost always, a crowd out the door.
The cake portion of their donuts are tasty, but not too sweet. That is saved for the variety of interesting and unique toppings ranging from sweet to savory — from your basic chocolate and vanilla to eye- and taste-bud-catchers like the Sweet Pig (maple icing and bacon), LeLe Coco (lemon icing and toasted coconut) and the Homer Simpson (strawberry icing with rainbow sprinkles). Customers know to keep their eyes open for new flavors, like the Guava minis for Gasparilla and the Fireball buttercream icing and Hot Tamales for Father’s Day.
Initially, Ruddell was worried that regular customers of Perks would turn their noses up at the newer, smaller doughnuts. “Why are you doing mini donuts?,” people told him. “That’s stupid.”
He actually considered offering regular-sized donuts initially, before easing into the miniature version. But, that was hardly the Ruddells’ style.
“We decided, that’s it, we’re opening as mini doughnuts from Day 1,” Zezura says. “You’re either going to love it or hate it. And, people loved it from Day 1.”
By January, the lines were long and seemingly unending. “I went out the door, took a selfie and was like, oh my God, what did we do here?,” Patrick says. “In less than three months, how did this happen?”
“We cried,” Zezura says. “We literally cried.”
It is more than just the doughnuts, says business partner and friend Lee Kearney, a broker for Spin Real Estate in Seminole Heights. It’s the experience, as customers can watch their doughnuts being dipped, rolled and packed up, as well as the interaction with employees, including Patrick and Zezura.
Always Giving Back, Too
The Ruddells say they feel deeply connected and thankful to their community and customers. They have spearheaded a number of charitable projects around Tampa Bay and are not only regulars at events to help the less fortunate, but among the first to reach into their own pockets.
“They are a big hit because they have integrated themselves into the community,’’ Kearney says. “They promote good things in the community. That, and it’s a great product, by great people. That’s what makes it special.”
Success was nothing new for the Ruddells. Patrick had a great run in real estate years before, flipping more than 700 houses between 2005 to 2008, before the market crashed and took almost everything he owned with it.
“We lost everything, literally everything,” Zezura says. “We were living in Seven Oaks, had what we thought was our forever home. Great money, great house, nice cars, the whole shebang. We lost everything down to where we had to sell jewelry to pay bills.”
“We short sold that house,” Patrick says, adding, “We lost $170,000 selling that house.’’
The Ruddells struggled that first year after the economy crashed, but slowly worked their way back, emboldened by a never-say-die entrepreneurial spirit. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale sometime in 2010, and began to rebuild as Patrick worked on some web ventures.
He flipped some web domains, including ScienceFiction.com (the country’s top sci-fi website, he says, with four million visitors a month) in 2012. They moved back to Wesley Chapel and used that money to get back into real estate.
But this time, they paid more attention to being diversified. Their next move, they decided, would be to find something that was recession-proof.
Driving around Wesley Chapel and New Tampa, Patrick says he felt like he was passing a Dunkin’ Donuts at every turn. One of his hobbies, he says, is walking into a business and analyzing it. How much would it cost? Could he make it better?
“Obviously, if there are five Dunkin’ Donuts within a few square miles of where we are, doughnuts are doing well,’’ Patrick said. And he had no doubt he could make better doughnuts, specifically smaller ones that are made-to-order and always fresh, in a variety of designs and toppings.
The Power Of Love…& Great Doughnuts
Success has taken the Ruddells on a roller coaster ride neither ever imagined.
“Success is more stressful than failure,’’ Patrick says.
Zezura says they worked 100 hours a week for six straight months, creating a major imbalance between work and family, including their two children, son Jordyn and daughter Aryanna. Even a 20-year relationship couldn’t withstand some of the pressures they were now facing.
They separated and even filed for divorce at one point. However, what initially tore them apart brought them back together, stronger than before.
“We decided last year that we needed to turn the corner and fix this,’’ Zezura says.
It came down to being unable to live without each other.
“I’m the one that will run through the wall, but this is the most supportive woman ever,’’ Patrick says. “Success or failure, she is always there, saying, ‘We are going to do it, we are going to make it.’”
“I’m not afraid of failure, really,’’ Zezura says.
“Because we’ve been there,’’ Patrick adds. “If you’ve made it once, you can make it again.”
And yes, they have made it, again. After breaking even the first month, Patrick and Zezura were pulling in six-figure profits at the Mini Doughnut Factory by the sixth month, far exceeding their goals and expectations.
They will open a second store in St. Petersburg later this summer. Another is planned for Orlando.
However, what’s the one place they would like to build a Mini Doughnut Factory more than any other?
At home, here in Wesley Chapel.
“We want it more than anything,’’ Patrick says.
They live in Wesley Chapel, and send their kids to schools here. Patrick coaches basketball at the Wesley Chapel District Park on Boyette Rd. — a pretty good hoopster himself, the 5-foot-10 donut maven says he once harbored NBA dreams —and the couple are regulars at Wesley Chapel eateries like their favorite, First Watch, where they say they can be found a handful of times a week.
The one thing they’d like to do most in Wesley Chapel, though, is work. Two months ago, they were on the verge of a deal to open a store on S.R. 56. What they thought was a done deal, however, wasn’t, as they say the leasing company reneged on an agreement.
It was devastating. So, they have had to move on. But, every once in a while, a customer from Wesley Chapel will venture into their store, and ask why they can’t have one here.
Patrick says he hasn’t given up yet.
“It hits me hard in the heart,’’ he says. “I wanna be everywhere where people want us to be.”
For more info, visit MiniDoughnutFactory.com, or search MiniDoughnutFactory on Facebook and Instagram. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.