EAST LIVERPOOL-If pottery is East Liverpool's biggest durable export, then L&B doughnuts are its biggest edible export.
East Liverpudlians have been enjoying L&B doughnuts since 1938, when Lorin Slates and Bud Benson founded the downtown business. Now in its 74th year and under new ownership, L&B Donuts is holding a grand reopening celebration 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
"Our doughnuts are still made from scratch with the original recipes. You don't find that hardly anywhere. That's why people still come," said owner Nicole Fitch, 35, of East Liverpool.
Nicole Fitch shows how cream-filled doughnuts get filled. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Fitch is part of an ownership group that includes her mother-in-law, Glenda Fitch, and her husband, Sean. She bought the business from her aunt, Marta Schrieber, a year ago and, since then, has made numerous improvements and added catering to the name L&B Donuts, 415 Market St.
"We do so much more than we used to," Nicole Fitch said.
Fitch worked at L&B as a teenager and all through
college. While a nurse at Calcutta Health Care Center, Fitch baked a cake for her son's birthday party and found that people liked it so much, they asked her to make more.
A recommendation from a friend landed her the job of catering the 10th anniversary celebration for Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. "It just picked up from there, and I thought, 'I should be doing this more.' People loved it, so I thought, 'Why not sell it?' " she said.
At the same time, Fitch learned that her aunt was looking to retire and sell the business. "I definitely wanted it to continue," Schrieber said. "This has been a gathering place for people for so many years, especially in the mornings."
Schrieber, 60, didn't want to sell it to just anyone, so she was happy to keep the business in the family. She still helps out with paperwork and at Christmas time.
Fitch, L&B's fifth owner, is following the business model of her aunt, who added to the menu and expanded the business in 1993, by buying the building next door and tripling its seating capacity.
Fitch has added catering and cakes to L&B's offerings, making physical improvements along the way-new chairs, new flooring, new cabinets and fresh interior paint.
"Being in charge is so much different than just working here," she said, noting that last week she put in 85 hours.
Fitch has added Sunday hours-7 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Sunday of the month-and four employees, mostly to help with the catering side of the business. Regular hours are 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Helping her, in addition to her mother-in-law and husband, is her sister-in-law, Dawn Fitch, her sister, Ashley Porter, and her brother-in-law, Jacob Porter.
Longtime employee Helen Conley, 57, said it's no wonder L&B Donuts has a family atmosphere. "We treat all our customers well. I'm accused of spoiling my customers," she said. "Some of the people, I've been waiting on since the '70s, and they still come in."
Conley's first stint with L&B began in 1972, under Lorin Slates and continued into the early 1980s, when Slates' son, Butch, took ownership. She returned to the business part time under Schrieber in 2004, and has been there ever since.
Conley remembers when L&B was open until 5 p.m. daily and 8 p.m. on Thursday. Christmas hours also were expanded. "We had a town back then," she said.
Even with tough, changing economic times in East Liverpool, L&B Donuts has remained a constant. Today, it provides employment for 15 people and a place downtown where people still can start their day.
"I love this place," Conley said. "When I'm here to open at a quarter 'til 5, people are already lined up in the cars down the street."
L&B Donuts is so associated with its hometown that transplanted East Liverpudlians will often order them to be shipped to where they are.
Frank "Digger" Dawson, town historian, said he used to take three dozen glazed L&B doughnuts to the annual East Liverpool picnic in Fort Meyers, Fla., in March.
He'd catch a 9 a.m. flight and, upon arrival at noon, the doughnuts were still warm. "Everybody scarfed up the doughnuts, and they wouldn't be hungry for lunch," he said.
Schrieber remembers an East Liverpool native who operated a pharmacy in Florida and who ordered six dozen L&B doughnuts-two dozen for himself, two dozen for his brother and two dozen for his employees.
A woman who was flying from Pittsburgh to London ordered three dozen glazed doughnuts to take with her. "She had a business over there, and ... she had apparently talked to the people in her office and wanted to take them over for them to try," Schrieber said.
At Saturday's grand reopening, L&B will introduce three new doughnuts: German chocolate, turtle and cereal crunch. Every half hour, there will be drawings for L&B gift cards, T-shirts and mugs. Everyone who walks through the door will have a choice of a free cupcake, cookie or doughnut. There also will be breakfast and lunch specials.