The Downyflake was originally located on South Water Street (where Fog Island Café is today) on Nantucket for over 40 years. In 1991, a gas explosion destroyed the building. After a few years of doing business at the concession building at Children’s Beach, the former owners moved the business to its present location on the edge of town and expanded it into a year round operation. For over 60 years locals and visitors alike have made a tradition out of visiting The Downyflake for a hearty breakfast or lunch or simply for a box of fresh Downyflake donuts.

As you ramble on through Life, Brother
Whatever be your goal
Keep your Eye upon the donut
And not upon the Hole

In the original Downyflake, many will recall a large colorful poster adorned with figures reminiscent of a joker or court jester upon which this whimsical rhyme was displayed. The Downyflake, which was originally operated by Gordon MacDonald, was one of many Downyflake Donut Shops which grew out of a franchise operation begun by The Donut Corporation of America in the early 1930’s.

America’s servicemen had acquired a taste for the unique sweet treats during the course of World War I when they were introduced by service organizations ministering to the needs of soldiers across the Continent. An automated doughnut making machine was invented by Adolph Levitt in 1921. Shortly afterward, Levitt began supplying standardized ingredient mixes formulated by his company, The Donut Corporation of America, to the pioneers of the donut franchise business. By the early 1930’s, several Downyflake donut shops had sprung up in cities and small towns across America. Part of the allure of the new donut shops was the placement of the donut machine in the front window.

During WWII, the American hunger for donuts grew even more. Levitt supplied his donut machines to the Red Cross to make donuts available to soldiers across the European battlefront once again. When the soldiers returned home, the donut industry in America was expanding rapidly. The Donut Corporation of America published a booklet in 1946 titled “So You Want To Go Into The Donut Business”. The booklet, a “how to” book instructing prospective owners on setting up and running a donut shop, was aimed at recruiting young men returning from the war looking for employment.

In 1938, a National Dunking Association (reportedly comprised of 3 million members) was established to promote interest in the donut and donut sales. The donut craze had begun. Dozens of Downyflake Donut shops popped up all over America between 1930 and 1950.By 1950, The Donut Corporation of America had offices in the U.S.A., Canada, Britain and Australia.

The Downyflake on Nantucket is believed to be the only remaining shop in what was once the first chain of franchises in the U.S. Some of the cities and towns boasting a Downyflake Donut Shop were New York, Boston, Burlington, Vt., Muncie, Indiana, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Peoria and Princeton, Illinois, Palm Springs, California, Lowell, MA., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; New Fulton, N.Y.; Orlando and Sarasota, Fla.; Sunnyside, Toronto; Eastland Shopping Center in Ringwood and Chadstone shopping Center in Chadstone (near Melbourne) Australia.

The original Downyflake in late 1940s

The Downyflake on S. Water St. in 1956

The Downyflake donut sign.

The Downyflake in 1960

All photos are from the Nantucket Historical Association