2018-05-01 / Dishing

Go with the Dough

Janette Haas has achieved her dream of owning her own business — and having her kids work there is the icing on top.
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern

When Janette Haas first visited a Duck Donuts during a holiday trip to the Outer Banks, she ordered a dozen donuts and ended up with a career change.

Janette Haas, OwnerJanette Haas, OwnerIt was Thanksgiving 2015. Her son had just been accepted to Penn State. She thought about those donuts the entire ride home. At the time, Haas, a former Zumba instructor who seems happiest in motion, was working as a Geisinger accountant in Danville. The cubicle was not her natural habitat.

“I wonder if Duck franchises,” she pondered aloud.

“You always thought about doing a coffee shop,” one of her four kids responded. “This is your chance.”

Haas didn’t want to look back at that moment with regret. Two weeks later, the then-44-year-old put her fears aside and dialed the corporate office of Duck Donuts. About two years later she quit her job at Geisinger and began preparations to open Duck’s first franchise location in State College, the seventh store in Pennsylvania. “I hope my kids are inspired by that and see that it’s OK to take a chance this late in life — as scary as it is.”

On a cold March morning, a college student wanders into the weeks-old Duck Donuts shop off Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown State College and takes in the surroundings.

“I’ve never been before,” the girl says, after Haas catches her eye.

“Well, come on in,” Haas says, beaming. “You look like you could be my daughter.”

Grabbing a plastic glove with one hand while turning the music up with the other, Haas prepares the student’s order: Bacon in the Sun — maple icing, chopped bacon and a salted caramel drizzle.

Haas left her home in Danville at 4:30 that morning, a ride she takes five days a week. Her husband, a project manager, was on a job site in Baltimore. Three of her children were back in Danville at high school and middle school. Despite this slightly disjointed existence, Haas seems incredibly at ease in her new career.

And she seems mostly unfazed by a market that’s saturated with donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts is 266 feet away. Peace, Love and Little Donuts is half a mile away on the other end of downtown State College. Bellefonte has Dam Donuts.

Even those of us who knew we’d be lining up in the first few weeks wondered: Do we really need another donut shop?

That’s a tough question, Haas concedes. “Yet we feel like our donuts stand out. They’re regular sized, we never rack them, they’re always fresh and the proprietary mix makes a nice, fluffy, warm donut.” Plus, she says, what kid wouldn’t want to spend her Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon pressed up against the glass watching a Duck employee make a donut just the way they want it — even if it’s a chocolate donut with Oreo crumble and lemon glaze.

“I want parents and their kids to see it’s not scary to come downtown,” she says during a rare moment when she’s actually sitting down — the perfect opportunity to reveal the pink-iced donuts on her socks, a Christmas gift from her husband. “We have a cute plaza here and there’s free parking on Sunday.”

What she doesn’t mention, and what I regard as the best thing about Duck’s arrival on the downtown scene: The Fraser Street parking garage now smells like freshly fried dough.

Several times a week Haas’ oldest son, a Penn State sophomore studying industrial engineering, comes through the door, backpack slung on his shoulders, and hugs his mom. Who is also his boss. Haas’ other children, including her oldest daughter who is starting Penn State in the fall as an aerospace engineering major at Schreyer Honors College, also work at Duck on the weekends. Nearly 100 percent of Duck’s employees are college students.

Haas relishes the “den mother” role and views it as another perk of business ownership. One of her greatest assets may be her ability to adopt a mindset attuned to appreciation.

As young professionals, Haas and her husband lived in Brooklyn, where they were “miserable” for part of their first year. “And then I thought, ‘What if this is the best days of our lives? We’re a young, married couple living in New York.’” So they set out to create their best life.

A few years later, Haas, who worked at Deutsche Bank, was recruited to another bank on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center, but turned it down because her husband had a job opportunity in Puerto Rico. They moved to Puerto Rico on Sept. 11, 2000 — exactly one year before the planes destroyed the towers. “I was running through a Walgreens when a friend told me, and I nearly passed out.”

The couple returned to Pennsylvania in 2008. Opening a business in State College brought them full circle; 25 years ago they got engaged at the Nittany Lion Shrine. While an eventual move to State College is not out of the question, for now Haas leaves work every day to make it home in time for her kids’ sporting events.

When she gets back in the car around 3:30 p.m., the only regret she has is about donuts.

“Weirdly I still crave them,” she says. “You’d think I wouldn’t, but the other night I was driving home and I thought, ‘Why didn’t I get that peanut butter donut?’” •SCM

Strawberry Trifle Cups

6 strawberry-coated donuts from Duck Donuts
1 box of instant cheesecake pudding
1¼ c. milk
1 tub of Cool Whip
Fresh sliced strawberries
20 oz. clear cups (or mason jars)

Prepare pudding with 1¼ c. milk. Gently mix in Cool Whip. Cut up donuts into bite size pieces. Starting with donuts, layer donuts, whipped cream/pudding and fresh strawberries in individual cups.  Top with whipped cream mixture and a fresh strawberry. Chill until ready to serve. Also try with blueberry donuts and fresh blueberries.

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