It was a quarter-century ago when New York-based restaurant and hospitality business owner Jim Cosentino tasted his first Krispy Kreme doughnut. He liked it so much he bought the southeast Florida franchise rights, sold all his New York interests and moved the family business to Fort Lauderdale in 1998.
Now, ensconced in the world of Krispy Kreme, Cosentino believes big in the power of Florida's other coast, starting with a push in Fort Myers. At 6 a.m. Oct. 16, the neon “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign was officially lighted for the first time in Southwest Florida. That's when the first Krispy Kreme store in the region opened. The store at 4904 S. Cleveland Ave. in Fort Myers is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, capable of making its signature hot glazed doughnuts any time day or night.
The new Fort Myers store is one of the largest in the Cosentino family-run operation. It'sa hybrid factory-production store with two doughnut-making machines capable of producing a total of 225 dozen per hour.
“We were very surprised to learn there were no stores in Southwest Florida,” says Cosentino. “It took us awhile to find where we wanted to start, but I think we picked the right location. The demographics and the traffic are what we wanted.”
Or perhaps more than they wanted. In its first two weeks of operation, the store reported sales of more than 900,000 doughnuts.
The store is near the geographic center of the company’s new territory, which extends from Marco Island to Port Charlotte. The location on U.S. 41 just south of Colonial Boulevard on the site of a former trailer park in a reviving area was appealing. Because of confidentialities within its franchise agreements, the company declined to disclosed the amount of its investments in the franchise area and the new store.
With the nearest locations in Tampa and the Miami area, the Southwest Florida market is wide open to the franchisee.
“We saw this great piece of open land near a big shopping center that had this great synergy with strong east-west and north-south traffic and thought this would be a great spot,” says Chris D’Angelo, Cosentino’s nephew and vice president of the family business. “It was all timing. We think this location captures a large part of the community.”
When considering locations, the company relies more on feel than raw data. "We do look at traffic and demographics, but we mainly use our gut in choosing a location given our experience in opening and operating other stores," says D'Angelo. "Access, visibility and signage also are important factors."
Overall, the company, with its South Florida holdings, employs 400. The Fort Myers store has a payroll of 65. Marialana Lococo, Cosentino’s daughter and president of the Krispy Kreme of South Florida, says the company’s history of advancement opportunity draws workers in a challenging labor market. She and her sister, Vice President of Marketing Jeanine Cieri, spearhead the hiring.
“People want to work at Krispy Kreme, so that helps,” says Lococo. “We pay our employees competitively. We are a company that promotes from within. The trainers here are from the East Coast who started as a retail, sanitation or production person, and here they are training a new staff for a new store. They see that, and it helps us retain our employees because they know if they show us what they've got, we move them up.”
At 3,200 square feet, the new Fort Myers Krispy Kreme store is larger than most. The company is already considering locations for its next store in Southwest Florida, to go with six on the east coast, plus a commissary that makes doughnuts for wholesale.
There was a time when Cosentino had no idea he was going to be selling Krispy Kreme.
“I was riding in a car with one of my employees in Daytona, and he said we're going to stop for a doughnut,” recalls Cosentino of his first Krispy Kreme encounter. “At the time I didn't know what Krispy Kreme was. He almost got into an accident turning into the parking lot because the hot doughnuts light was on.”
On a diet at the time, Cosentino agreed to try one, which became a second and a third. He was immediately sold. “I had three and said, ‘I would love to have this franchise.’”
His pursuit required patience and perseverance. After years of monthly phone calls to the company’s Winston-Salem, N.C. headquarters, Cosentino finally flew a company official to New York, at his expense, to see his business operation. The next day, he was informed he was approved and later offered a franchise opportunity in South Florida, taking over one store in Miami and two in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Cosentino sold his businesses and headed south. “I decided at the time I had too many employees, I couldn’t handle it any more and that's it,” he says. “Out of all the brands we had, we kept Krispy Kreme.”