Slice of Life

Doughnut stand expands into full-time shop, serves up apple cider treats to locals

Sara Swann | News Editor

Customers line up to get a taste of Regional Donut Authority's famous apple cider doughnuts.

It’s one of the first Saturdays of fall in Syracuse, one of the first where the morning brings relief instead of another heat wave.

Shoppers at the Central New York Regional Market have traded shorts for sweaters as they fill the market’s long, green-roofed sheds to capacity. They’re making their way between the dozens of fellow shoppers, throwing out an “excuse me” and squeezing through to search for which of the many vendors is selling the best eggplant.

But off to the side of the C Shed, some shoppers have made their way out of the bustle, forming a winding line for something different — a warm apple cider doughnut from Regional Donut Authority.

Shoppers like Sam Weber, who said she’s carb-loading before she starts looking for vegetables.

Like Spencer Burgess, who said he needs a doughnut and a few cups of coffee to fully wake up on the chilly morning.

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Whatever their reason, market shoppers will wait five, 10, even 15 minutes to get a doughnut. There’s a line even though the stand can fry up to 672 doughnuts per hour. The stand has been a market staple for nearly six years, and in July, it expanded into a full-time shop just minutes from the market.

At the front of the line, customers are greeted by owner Rich Lickfield, who mans the stand every Saturday. He hands off a doughnut — freshly coated in cinnamon sugar and still hot from the Donut Robot Mark V doughnut maker — and quickly moves to the next customer.

Thirteen years ago, Lickfield was serving up something different at the market: pizza. Lickfield opened the stand to promote his full-time pizza shop.

“We figured you can spend a lot of money on advertising … Or you can spend less money on rent at a place like that and make money off your advertising,” Lickfield said. “(You) get your product actually in people’s mouths and make a couple bucks doing it.”

At the time, there was also a successful doughnut stand at the market. But when the owner decided to stop selling at the market, it was a noticeable loss. Lickfield said market-goers constantly asked him if the doughnuts were coming back.

The market went two years without any doughnuts before Lickfield decided to take a risk and fill the void himself. He didn’t have a doughnut recipe, but figured he’d give it a shot.

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Sara Swann | News Editor

After all, Lickfield and his wife Sue have been in the food business for years, with Sue currently working with Syracuse University Catering Services. Their son Logan is also a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science.

With a full-time job, Sue said she’s only occasionally around to help at the stand or shop on weekends, and Logan works at the stand every Saturday. But overall, making the doughnuts and running the stand is up to Lickfield.

Lickfield created a batter and started doing taste tests, asking people to try doughnuts made with and without apple cider. Everyone preferred the cider doughnuts, and though it’s a little more expensive, to Lickfield it was a “no-brainer” to keep cider in the recipe.

“If you don’t tell somebody that it’s in there, they don’t know it’s in there — they just know the doughnut tastes good,” Lickfield said.

Since then, Lickfield has taken the batter recipe a step further. It usually takes about 10 minutes for doughnut batter to rise so it can be fried. Lickfield’s created a batter that’s ready to fry instantly.

With its seemingly never-ending line, Regional Donut Authority took off in a way Lickfield’s pizza stand never did. So after five years in business, he was ready to expand.

“We decided to take a shot and open a shop and give Dunkin’ Donuts a run for their money,” Lickfield said.

The Regional Donut Authority storefront sits in Liverpool, New York, marked by a fluorescent sign spelling out the store’s name in a retro typeface. It sets the theme for inside the shop — records hanging from the ceiling and an antique cash register in the corner greet anyone who walks inside.

Behind the tiled counter, Kristen Smith, an employee at the shop, puts the finishing touches on a few doughnuts sitting on wax paper.

“This is a chocolate raspberry drizzle with buttercream frosting,” she explained as she squeezed icing onto the doughnuts.

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At Regional Donut Authority’s full-time shop, there’s more than just the apple cider doughnuts that made the shop famous. In front of Smith, there’s an assortment of toppings — crushed Butterfingers, rainbow sprinkles, pretzel pieces — reminiscent of an ice cream shop. Inside the small doughnut case, which only stocks a few freshly-made doughnuts, there are creations that Lickfield has dubbed “New Fangled Donuts.”

Whenever he has a few hours, Lickfield will start experimenting. For one of his most recent special doughnut flavors, he took some lemon icing fruits, which create a lemon flavor in icings and glazes. He mixed them into some doughnut batter along with some poppy seeds, topped the finished fry cake with a lemon glaze, and created a new lemon poppy flavor.

This creative freedom is part of what sets him apart from chains like Dunkin’ Donuts.

“You don’t have to be limited by what’s available from your vendors; you can just mix stuff together,” Lickfield said. “We just play.”

But not being a big-name business can be a challenge. Restaurants can’t operate a drive-thru in Liverpool, Lickfield said, but a Dunkin’ Donuts opening near Regional Donut Authority recently was approved to open a drive-thru.

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Sara Swann | News Editor

With a drive-thru, Lickfield feels he could triple his business. He said about 22,000 cars drive by the shop every day, but so many still haven’t noticed the business or stopped in.

And while the market stand is established and has a following, those customers don’t always make their way to the full-time shop.

“We get so many people that come to the market,” Lickfield said. “If I could get 10 percent of them to come here, this place would be wildly successful.”

Just then, the door jingles and another customer files into the line at the counter.

“There’s all these people here, I gotta go help them,” Lickfield said.

And he steps back behind the counter, ready to serve up a few more of his fried creations.

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