Sponsor Content

The Local Donut-and-Coffee Shop that Grew Into a New England Business Empire

Family establishments like coffee shops and bakeries have been defining New England townscapes with their distinct aromas and flavors for decades. Shops like these are important to a town’s identity because of that familiarity and the comfort they bring to their patrons. 

In some cases, these beloved businesses are able to find innovative ways to grow their brand and share their flavors with even more patrons. One close-to-home example: New England’s iconic coffee-and-donut shop Honey Dew Donuts. The franchise has grown and evolved exponentially since 1973—they’re celebrating 50 years this year, more than 100 Honey Dew stores, and an extensive menu with inventive new offerings. 

We sat down with Honey Dew’s Founder and CEO Dick Bowen to hear about what it takes to achieve that growth and keep up with consumers year after year, challenge after challenge, while continuing to serve that familiar local flavor. Here’s the Honey Dew story. 

Following His Instincts

Since the beginning, Bowen has never lost sight of his true north. Since he was ten years old and accompanying his father to his job at a donut shop, he was hooked. “I loved the business right from the beginning,” he says. 

In fact, Honey Dew’s name came from a list of donut shop names he mused about on a paper-bag textbook cover more than 10 years before his store’s opening.

Bowen was drawn to the job because he saw stability in it, and a way to realize his goals for his future family. “[The owner] of the donut shop had a family car that didn’t break down all the time and a house with a backyard,” he says. “Things like that made a big impression on me.” 

So, as an adult, after his military service, he became manager of a small coffee-and-donut chain with a shop in Norton. 

But Bowen sensed that the chain was going in the wrong direction, with location after location closing down. He took it as a sign to pursue his dream of opening his own shop. “I took my savings and I went to the town of Mansfield, which was right next door,” he says. He had saved $5,000. 

Bowen used his local connections with service workers like electricians and plumbers to build the shop for 15,000 dollars. In 1973, in a plaza in Downtown Mansfield, Honey Dew Donuts was born. 

The Importance of Customer Connection

The first Honey Dew Donuts shop was, as Bowen explains, “a cubby hole of a shop.” 

“I worked very hard,” he says. “I did everything–I washed floors, I made the donuts, I waited on customers, you name it.” Bowen says mingling with customers was the most important aspect of initial growth. “We want them to feel like it’s their Honey Dew, not ours,” he says. 

One of those customers became Bowen’s close friend and first franchisee. “[He] used to come in all the time and we’d talk in the back room about sports and politics,” he says. About two and a half years into business, he approached Bowen about opening his own Honey Dew Donuts shop. 

“He was a very hardworking guy,” says Bowen. “I said, ‘You’re the kind of person I would invest in.’” So, Bowen built him a Honey Dew in Taunton, Massachusetts, which he says did very well. Before he knew it, word of mouth spread about the Honey Dew Donuts franchise, and more mutual friends became interested in becoming an owner.  

Bowen was enthusiastic about expanding the Honey Dew footprint, but has always kept a high standard for his franchise owners. “There’s a lot to owning your own business,” he says. “And so I really want to make sure that they’re in it. And it isn’t just about money. It’s about really having the ability to do it,” he says. At Honey Dew, they’ve never been as concerned about quarterly revenue reports as they are about customer satisfaction.

To achieve that customer satisfaction, it takes the same recipe year after year: “Clean stores, good quality product, and great service,” Bowen says. 

Consistency, Evolution, and Growth

Although the Honey Dew menu has expanded and kept up with the times, the flavors and ingredients in their confections and drinks have never changed. “When I first started, I became a customer of the best donut mix company in all of New England, Bake’n Joy,” he says. Honey Dew still works with Bake’n Joy to this day. 

They also took a great deal of time perfecting the coffee blend, which comes from South America. “We paid more money for the mixes and the coffee to ensure our quality,” Bowen says. “But in the long run, it’s worth it because it’s all about the customer.” 

Today, just eight percent of Honey Dew’s sales come from donuts, compared to 70 percent in the beginning. 50 percent is coffee, and the rest is made up of specialty drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries. “Times change,” he says. “You have to go with the times, and that’s what we’ve always done.”

To maintain their alignment with today’s consumers, Honey Dew analyzes data, researches trends and holds committee meetings on food and beverage to stay up-to-date with their offerings to compete with regional and national competitors. 

In fact, Bowen has found that their relatively small size helps them be quick on their feet when it comes to these changes and staying competitive. “We actually had muffins before Dunkin’ had them,” he says. Lately, they’ve been introducing more inventive items like a selection of burritos: an avocado burrito with eggs, potatoes, cheese and avocado; a steak burrito with steak, eggs, potatoes, and cheese; and a breakfast burrito with potatoes, eggs, cheese and bacon. 

Honey Dew depends on its corporate employees to spearhead advertising, test new menu items and support the franchisees. “We have to really maintain a positive attitude and keep looking forward,” he says. Still, Bowen maintains that the success and growth of the brand has hinged on the same bottom line since the beginning. 

“Since day one: You really have to take care of the customer,” he says. “The dollars will work themselves out. It’s what I’ve been preaching for 50 years.”