Dec. 1, 2001 was one of the best nights of my life.
The fifth-ranked Tennessee Vols were a massive, double-digit underdog to second-ranked Florida. The team was led by Steve Spurrier, an East Tennessee native from Johnson City and it made our blood boil.
I disliked the Gators. In retrospect, UT shouldn’t have been that much of an underdog because that Vols team was loaded with talent. It was maybe the last truly great team of Phillip Fulmer’s coaching career.
Fulmer was at his best when he could play the underdog card. He took that team to Gainesville and jumped on the Gators who battled back to take the lead at the half. With a trip to the SEC championship on the line, the Vols battled back – running the ball down Florida’s throats as little tailback Travis Stephens went absolutely wild.
Florida scored a late touchdown to make it interesting. We went crazy when the Vols won.
The call went out for Vol fans to meet the team as it arrived back at the University of Tennessee campus.
And of course, we had to go.
It was late when they finally arrived to the waiting pandemonium. We cheered. We sang. Somebody, regrettably in hindsight, handed out roses because the National Championship was going to be held at the Rose Bowl that year.
When it was over, it was after midnight and I had adrenaline and euphoria rushing through my veins.
I looked at my wife Leslie and made the call: It was time for fresh Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
When did Krispy Kreme first open?
Krispy Kreme is an institution. Founded by a New Orleans chef working in North Carolina in 1937, a Krispy Kreme doughnut is a gift from heaven.
When the hot light is lit, indicating hot, fresh doughnuts are available, Krispy Kreme shops might be the best restaurants in the South.
At that time, Krispy Kreme was growing from a Southern sensation to a national one. The brand was expanding outside the region and bringing its awesome doughnut experience to places that frankly needed the delicious flavor boost of a long john topped with creamy chocolate icing and filled with rich Bavarian custard.
With the exception of clubs, bars and Waffle House, Knoxville tends to close down around midnight. In fact, even earlier twenty years ago.
So, as we pulled up to the Krispy Kreme on Kingston Pike, there was a long line. But the hot sign was lit and we were young and energetic and had nothing but time to wait for a tasty treat.
We got some fresh original glazed doughnuts and I’m sure some fancier varieties. Anything with smooth chocolate icing is always a hit and I enjoy a doughnut with zesty lemon filling.
We’d beaten Florida. We had hot doughnuts. We were Knoxville royalty that night.
The rise and fall of Krispy Kreme
The rapid expansion of the 90s led to the company going public, coincidentally in 2001. And things looked rosy for a couple of years.
There were Krispy Kreme locations everywhere but then the market took a dramatic turn. The company posted a loss in May of 2004, blaming the low carb trend of the Atkins diet. Analysts, however, noted rival purveyor Dunkin Donuts hadn’t suffered the same way.
As a result, investors began questioning if Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, much like that 2001 Vols team, had gotten a little too cocky. Perhaps flew too close to the sun.
The company suffered a blow that it never quite recovered from, opening the door for companies like Dunkin to come South.
Does Tennessee have Krispy Kreme?
Yes. They’re still here but you see them more often sold in grocery stores than at Krispy Kreme stores. Even Krispy Kreme fans will tell you that they are not quite the same when they’re not hot and fresh.
There are currently two remaining Krispy Kreme Doughnut shops in Knoxville, one in Johnson City and one in Kingsport. There’s also one across the state line in Asheville.
The Krispy Kreme website lists two locations in Sevier County – Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. However, both are (at least) temporarily closed.
Why is Krispy Kreme closed in Pigeon Forge TN?
Krispy Kreme Pigeon Forge closed for a variety of reasons, I suspect.
A lot of Sevier County restaurants have been hit hard by labor shortages as the world recovers from the last couple of years. Also, and I don’t have any inside information or anything, I suspect the market was putting pressure on Krispy Kreme long before things got weird.
It seems Krispy Kreme experienced a misunderstanding of the market going all the way back to 2004. When analysts pointed to Dunkin and said it hadn’t been affected by the low carb trend, I think that ignores the fact that while they appear to be in competition, Dunkin and Krispy Kreme were two very different business models.
Despite the name, Dunkin is a coffee place that served doughnuts. Krispy Kreme is a doughnut place that served coffee. A coffee place is better equipped to survive a low-carb push than a doughnut place.
Why is Krispy Kreme going out of business?
I’ll tell you a quick story. A few years after Krispy Kreme took a shot in the broadside, Dunkin started expanding South. They opened a massively successful location up about three minutes from my house in East Morristown, TN.
I was at an event with the franchise owner who explained the corporate execs were flabbergasted. The Morristown location had turned the Dunkin business model upside down, selling shocking amounts of doughnuts but less coffee than expected. Dunkin was sending corporate people down to study the trend and see if it could be applied elsewhere.
Krispy Kreme had built its business in a doughnut-appreciating culture. It wasn’t equipped to deal with that.
I think it’s a bit much to say Krispy Kreme is going out of business, but the market has changed.
Over the years, the coffee culture has grown in the South. Places like Starbucks and Dunkin and dozens of other smaller coffee places will also sell doughnuts and pastries in wide and yummy varieties.
However, there’s less social stigma that goes with getting a coffee and a doughnut than going to get a doughnut and maybe a coffee.
What should I order at Krispy Kreme?
Something hot and fresh, anything with the flavorful chocolate icing which brings an added burst of scrumptiousness. If you go in for such a thing, try the classic cake doughnut.
But if you like something with fruit filling, try mom’s apple pie or the berry lover’s delight. The cinnamon sugar with more than a light dusting of both is also an excellent choice.
Should I drive to Knoxville, the Tri-Cities or Asheville to get a Krispy Kreme?
If you are staying in Sevier County, no. If you’re craving a quality doughnut that’s not sold at a coffee place, get yourself to Gatlinburg to the Donut Friar, a Sevier County institution.
However, if you’re on the road and see a Krispy Kreme and the hot light is lit? Go for it.
Do you miss Krispy Kreme in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!