by JUSTIN COOPER
It wasn’t their idea to open a donut shop at the onset of Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak in early March, but John and Demitra Burkhart of Duck Donuts are trying to make the best of it.
The husband-and-wife team have been delivering free donuts to medical staff, police officers, postal workers, and others deemed essential to the fight against the virus.
Comments can be made on their Facebook page to nominate front-line workers for a sweet surprise.
“We’re here. We’re healthy,” Demitra said. “Let’s go make some donuts.”
They’ve delivered to at least eight hospitals, including the Troy’s Children’s Hospital and Beaumont Hospital, and have brought donuts as far as Plymouth. They’ve been met with surprise and gratitude, particularly from a group of veterans, who said few others had thought of them.
While delivering, John said, the two are “very conscious of staying out of everybody’s way,” and always call ahead to arrange the drop-off. Still, their trips to essential workplaces are head-on collisions with the grim reality at the heart of the pandemic.
During a delivery in the emergency area of Troy Beaumont, a woman ran to the nurse taking their donuts. Seven cars behind them, her husband was struggling to breathe.
Demitra has a special reverence for medical workers. Her sister was once hospitalized for 99 days, during which hospital staff from nurses to security guards became “family.”
“You know them by name,” she said. “Part of who I am today is probably because of the time I spent with them over those 99 days.”
The Burkharts are new to Troy, having relocated from Columbus, Ohio. John is from Pinconning, with family in Bellevue, and Demitra “fell in love” with Michigan on a trip through the western part of the state.
Their store, the first Duck Donuts location in Michigan, had been in the works for about two years when it opened March 7. Pictures taken that day show a line of customers stretching all along their counter. Within their first week of business, they already had repeat business.
Michigan still had three days before its first COVID-19 cases would be confirmed. Working as many as 20 hours a day to get the store ready for the grand opening, the news trickling in of the virus’ global spread had yet to register as an imminent threat.
On March 16, just over a week after its opening, Duck Donuts locations nationwide closed their seating areas and transitioned to take-out only.
With some employees who take public transportation and a manager whose husband works in a senior living facility, the Burkharts closed the store to all business ten days later.
“What’s happened to us is very unfortunate, and it’s heartbreaking, but what’s going on is really a tragedy,” Demitra said.
The business is still obligated to pay its full rent. While they’ve received some relief through a Small Business Administration loan, John said they do not qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program because their payroll began on March 1, one day beyond the eligibility window for new businesses.
They remain optimistic, making plans to re-engage a community that “couldn’t have been nicer” in their first, and so far, only, week of business once the pandemic subsides.
“We’re still thinking how we’re going to weather the storm,” Demitra said. “We’re not going there — how much longer we have until we pull the plug.”