In the beginning, there was a pun and the pun was good.
It was the late ’60s and Gatlinburg investors Jim and June Gerding, owners of The Pancake Pantry, and David and Peggy Dych, owners of Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen, had their eyes on a piece of land to develop next to the Pantry.
But there was a problem.
It was one of the few available undeveloped spots in the heart of Gatlinburg. However, it didn’t offer much frontage on the main strip. The bulk of the property couldn’t be seen from the road.
Gerding and Dych purchased the land in 1965, briefly turning it into a parking lot. In 1967, the landowners leased a piece of property to Lee Butler. Butler had built the successful Two Collectors Shop.
Seeing a successful shop operate off the main strip emboldened the business owners to think bigger. The Village shopping complex, with its distinctive European design, opened in 1967.
Among the original village shops – and the only one left standing – is the pun-tastic The Donut Friar … get it?
Village, Friar … anyway, moving along.
Who owns the Donut Friar in Gatlinburg?
Carolyn and James Ryan moved to Gatlinburg in 1969, opening The Donut Friar – featuring a happy little donut-serving holy man who was somehow perfect for The Village’s European sensibilities.
The original price of a donut and coffee? 25-cents.
Over the years, The Donut Friar developed a devoted following of locals and tourists who returned time and again for delicious donuts, coffee and more.
The Donut Friar – and the husband and wife team who ran it – became Gatlinburg institutions.
In fact, many a Gatlinburg youth learned the value of a good please and thank you under Jim’s patient instruction. Something like a more benevolent version of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.
And the community has responded. But don’t just take my word for it. The Donut Friar’s website offers the following:
“We have built a stellar reputation around the freshness and quality of the goodies we make. We take pride in our products and our customers give us great reviews. We have a 4.5 rating from over 2400 reviews on Trip Advisor and are rated the #1 Gatlinburg dessert location. We also have high ratings on Google, Facebook, Yelp & more. We are on Foursquare’s “America’s Best Donut List” & local Gatlinburg businesses Aunt Bugs Cabins rates us the #1 Donut and Stony Brook Lodging rates us the #1 bakery.”
Kevin, the Ryans’ son, currently oversees general operations. Carolyn and James Ryan passed away in 2021.
What’s on the menu at Donut Friar?
For generations, the Ryans have served donuts of all kinds. Favorites include chocolate and coconut glazed and rainbow sprinkle donuts. French crullers and Bavarian cream-filled cinnamon twists are also on the menu.
And, just so you know, the chocolate éclairés are to die for and the Danish isn’t far behind.
The Donut Friar cinnamon bread is also a local favorite.
In addition to the wide variety of pastries, the shop serves croissants and date bars as well as espresso, cappuccinos and lattes.
Today, the routine remains much the same, as the Ryan family continues the legacy begun more than 50 years ago.
Donuts and coffee are ready when the shop opens for those who want to start their day the right way.
“We begin every day at 1 am making our fresh sweet treats in store and keep making them all day as needed,” The Donut Friar website states.
“We make over 30 varieties of cake & yeast donuts daily as well as other goodies. We introduced a custom Arabic bean blend that we call Jim’s Blend in the mid-80s that we grind fresh for each order of espresso, cappuccino & latte we make. Our sweetest donut is The Friar Special. It is a yeast donut dipped in chocolate, filled with white crème & topped with a smiley face from the same crème.”
When does the Donut Friar open?
While the shop opens every day at 5 am, closing times are seasonal.
But The Donut Friar normally remains open until 10 pm through the height of tourist season.
The small shop features limited seating. But the courtyard outside is a perfect place to sit, rest and enjoy your snack.
In addition to the culinary items, The Donut Friar offers a wide array of reasonably priced merch including mugs, travel cups, handbags and T-shirts.
Have you visited Donut Friar in Gatlinburg? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.