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Duck Donuts previews Manheim Township store

Marissa DiGilio, who will handle training for the chain, holds up what she calls "the perfect doughnut." - (Photo / Roger DuPuis)

Up-and-coming doughnut chain Duck Donuts will open its first Pennsylvania location this weekend in Lancaster County.

The duck has landed.

Up-and-coming doughnut chain Duck Donuts, which in January announced plans to enter the Cumberland and Lancaster county markets, will debut its Lancaster County store on Saturday.

Located at Overlook Town Center in Manheim Township, Duck’s first Pennsylvania location welcomed invited guests and media today for a preview of what the public can expect when the doors open for real this weekend.

For customers, it will mean a chance to sample the warm, made-to-order doughnuts — which have been the signature product since the chain was founded in Duck, N.C. in 2006 — as well as coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

For franchisees Todd and Mimi Bidelman, it will be the realization of a dream come true. The Lancaster County couple, with decades of experience in manufacturing and phamaceuticals, were inspired to invest in a franchise after falling in love with the baked treats during a vacation to Kill Devil Hills, N.C. a few years ago.

Todd Bidelman said his brother-in-law told them about the shop.

“When we first pulled in, there was a line of about 50 people waiting out on the sidewalk,” Bidelman recalled.

He was skeptical. Until he finally tried one of the doughnuts.

“I was captured,” he said.

And that’s exactly how chain founder Russ DiGilio has been expanding the business: by responding to market demand, often expressed through interest from vacationing customers who wanted stores in their own cities.

“This is happening organically,” DiGilio said.

Down the shore

Roger DuPuis

A Cumberland County resident, DiGilio spent three decades of his working life in the healthcare field, most recently overseeing the management and development of nursing and assisted living facilities.

He and his family spent their vacations in North Carolina, but something was missing.

As a teen growing up in New Jersey, DiGilio had savored the pleasures of freshly made doughnuts along the boardwalk in Ocean City. The Outer Banks might be beautiful, but DiGilio and his family saw an opportunity to bring a taste of his youth to the North Carolina coast.

What started as “a whim, a far-fetched idea,” became a bricks-and-mortar reality 10 years ago.

Within five years of opening the original Duck store, the chain had four Outer Banks locations, and DiGilio said he was frequently approached about franchise opportunities.

The first franchise opened in Williamsburg, Va., in 2013. More followed.

“We didn’t know how this would do in non-vacation spots,” he said.

The answer, it turns out, is rather well.

There are now 23 franchise locations. By the end of this year, the company expects to have between and 35 stores in operation, with dozens more under contract, stretching from New Jersey to Florida.

Closer to home, the Mechanicsburg resident in June plans to open a flagship store and 600-square-foot training center on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, in a former Verizon outlet.

DiGilio said Pittsburgh-area stores are expected to open later this year, while he hopes to gain a foothold in the Philadelphia market down the road — the opening of a store in Avalon, N.J., a resort popular with Philadelphia-area tourists, may help, he suggested.

Neither of the midstate locations looks anything like a coastal resort town, but there are other elements which DiGilio and Bidelman calculate as factors to bring in bodies: 36,000 vehicles passing through the Carlisle Pike corridor each day past the Cumberland County store, and in Lancaster County, 18,000 along Fruitville Pike and 30,000 more nearby on Route 30.

Family business

The doughnuts are the draw, but DiGilio says creating an atmosphere of family fun gets people in the door to begin with.

The baked goods are made fresh in front of customers for those who can visit the stores, with glass windows for families — especially children — to watch as they are dipped and topped with various confections before being served warm in the box.

Daughter Marissa DiGilio, who handles training for the chain, said training on making the vanilla cake doughnuts is important, but training franchisees on good customers service is essential.

To satisfy anticipated crowds and keep the lines moving, a store can need as many as 10 employees, plus a manager, on busy Saturday mornings, she said.

The 1,300-square-foot Manheim Township store will create 25 new jobs, and uses PA Preferred milk products.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com.

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