Living the sweet life on the edge of obscurity.
By Mark Bennett
Work brings Chicago businessman Tom Keller to Terre Haute. And then his taste buds bring him to 1842 S. Third St.
The Square Donuts shop is a must-stop when Keller comes to town in his role as vice president of KFS Inc. Transportation Services.
"I'll tell our drivers, and they'll say they've never heard of square doughnuts," Keller said as he walked out with a one-dozen box. "But they like 'em. They're very unique."
And that's exactly what Richard Comer wanted back in 1967 when he hatched the geometrically revolutionary idea of making four-sided doughnuts at the shop then-known as Tasty Creme Donuts.
"That was Dad's idea," said his son, Rick Comer, the third-generation proprietor. "I think it was just one of those things, that this was out of the norm." (They also fit more neatly on a tray than round ones, he added.)
Thus was born a bit of obscure fame for Terre Haute as the only place in America to find square doughnuts. And that status has been recognized by such notables as Hollister "Holly" Moore, finder of odd-but-good eateries for PBS and the HollyEats.com Web site, and Keith Olbermann, host of the MSNBC "Countdown" show.
Their shape was so unusual that Richard Comer had to special order the shop's first square doughnut cutter. Nearly four decades later, a broken part forced Square Donuts to replace it. And when they called the maker of that first device, someone there told Rick Comer, "We don't make a square doughnut cutter."
Rick told the guy he was looking right at that company's name on the side of the old one. Sure enough, the order for that first square cutter was found, handwritten, from the 1960s. The company made a new one.
That cutter and 22 employees help create from 150 dozen to 350 dozen Square Donuts a day at three locations. Four employees have worked there for more than 20 years. Rick's dad, Richard, retired in 2004 after 48 years. And Rick's maternal grandmother, Eva Monkhouse, started this family business nearly a half-century ago.
The attraction transcends mere squareness. Taste is the prime motivation for repeat customers.
A sack of Square Donuts accompanies 93-year-old Terre Haute resident Clifford Stout at least twice a week. "I eat 'em everywhere I go," Stout said as he left with a walking cane in one hand and the sack in the other.
Rick samples doughnuts in other cities when his family travels. "The one thing I've noticed about ours is they're a lot lighter than other ones," he said.
Regulars, like Keller and Stout, aren't uncommon. Nor are curious newcomers.
"You see the same faces at the same time every day, almost to the minute," Rick Comer said. "And I've been in this business 13 years going on 14, and there's never a day I don't see somebody new."
GET TO KNOW SQUARE DONUTS
What makes them unique: They're square, instead of round like other doughnuts. Richard Comer's idea to go four-sided in 1967 made them America's only Square Donuts.
What they cost: A dozen glazed Square Donuts are $4.50. If you order five dozen or more at least one day in advance, they're $3.50 a dozen.
How they make them: Square Donuts' bakers use 2,500 pounds of mix and 1,500 pounds of sugar each week. All of the fillings (except jellies) and icings are made at their main location at 1842 S. Third St.
Where to find them: In the South Third Street shop (from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily), and in two other locations at 935 Wabash Ave. and 2417 Fort Harrison Road (6 to 11:30 a.m. daily).
Where they've been eaten: Proprietor Rick Comer says some Square Donuts were even shipped to soldiers overseas in the first Gulf War.