Paul Wilson: Grandad does doughnuts the old way in Hamilton's North End

What happened to those fresh, plump doughnuts we used to know? They're baking some up right now – orange twists, bowties, the works – at a place that isn't Hortons.
At Grandad's on James North at Burlington, they're up early to bake those doughnuts from scratch right on the premises, the way it used to be everywhere. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

If the sign over your front door doesn’t say Hortons, it can be tough selling doughnuts in this town.

Consider the history up at James North and Burlington.

In the mid-’80s, a shop opened in the strip plaza there called Robin’s Doughnuts. They didn’t sell Timbits. Their little balls of deep-fried dough were called Robin’s Eggs.

Samantha Whipps shows off one of the Grandad's Donuts 'fancies' trays. Have you seen whipped-cream wonders like this at Hortons lately? (Paul Wilson/CBC)

At one time, there were five Robin’s in the area. But in the city that gave birth to the mighty Hortons, the little chain shrunk to one – the shop on James North.

And the guy who had that outlet decided it didn’t make sense to be paying franchise fees to Robin’s anymore. He pulled down the sign and called his place Bayside Cafe and Doughnuts. But in the summer of 2006, his ship sank.

The next year, along came Grandad’s Donuts, brainchild of a guy named Scott Whipps. Many years before, he’d been a baker, even apprenticed at Main and Wentworth, the store where Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce established his doughnut college.

Whipps had grand plans to franchise the Grandad’s concept. He opened one at Delta Bingo downtown in 2009. But for various reasons, that didn’t work out.

And in recent years, he had turned over the James North Grandad’s to another operator. But that did not run smoothly, and this summer the doors closed again.

Grandad is back in the saddle, and he's baking up the now-rare orange twist. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

This fall, however, there’s a sign out by the street announcing that Grandad’s is back, with original owners.

At the counter when we stop by is Samantha Whipps, daughter of owners Scott and Barb.

She says business is good. This is different from a Hortons. There is actually a counter at which you can sit, equipped with six old-style stools. On the wall, there’s a TV.

But the big difference is that here the doughnuts are made right on the premises, at three in the morning, either by baker Curtis Mitchell or by Samantha’s mother.

You can still get an orange twist here. Try tracking down one of those at a Hortons these days. Or something from the "fancies" tray, like a whipped-cream laden bowtie or chocolate eclair.

These gorgeous heart-stoppers aren’t coming from a baked-then-frozen factory in Brantford like Hortons.

When I stopped by, Grandad’s had just sold their last orange twist. So I got a Canadian maple. It was divine – bigger, fresher, tastier than the big boy’s.

Hortons has never chosen to locate up here in the North End. Maybe they’ve got market research that says it just can’t work. Maybe they’re wrong. Go, Grandad, go.


Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.