The donut-paved road to success


This is a plug, pure and simple. The bakers at Lee’s Donuts, 1237 Larpenteur Ave W, on the Roseville/Saint Paul border make fabulous donuts and rolls. I brought in a box for my office mates this morning. It was nearly empty by 10 a.m.

The Lee family opened Lee’s Donuts about a month ago. It’s a bare-bones, painfully clean operation with a single display case and a cash register counter. That’s it. No artfully designed interior or nifty lighting scheme. What passes as “upselling,” the now-standard suggestive retail sales strategy, at Lee’s Donuts is limited to “all cake, no glazed, right?” Unlike the gourmet cupcake craze, Lee’s pastries are not remotely hip. They are basic, straightforward and delicious.

Lee’s donuts are made on site. They’re not produced for long-term, shelf-stabilized product life. If an item is selling well, the Lees make more.

Many small businesses fail or cease operating within five years. Making and selling food is an especially cut-throat business yet people regularly take that risk. When they do, Minnesota moves forward. That’s why Minnesota 2020 champions small business development policy. Unfortunately, the State of Minnesota doesn’t appear to share our public policy enthusiasm.

That’s right. Minnesota isn’t doing much to actually aid small businesses creation. Governor Pawlenty’s JOBZ program helped established businesses move from one part of the state to another, more desirable location, but growing new small businesses? Not so much.

A common entry barrier is access to capital. Despite today’s low inflation/low interest rate environment, only the largest businesses seem to have no problems lining up funding. Minnesota could create small business lending pools, financed through state bond sales, capturing low interest rate loan advantages for new small business owners. Doing so, however, clashes with conservative “no new taxes” orthodoxy, so another opportunity for business growth is lost.

I hope Lee’s Donuts succeeds. They fry a tasty a pastry. They’re also clearly taking a huge gamble and I hope they profit. Minnesota needs more, not less, of this spirit. Smart policy can help.