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Homegrown business is about to expand

Paula Huber spent years working for other people in the baking business: as a Dunkin' Donuts franchisee, as a Mister Donut supervisor and as a bakery manager for Tops and Jubilee Foods grocery stores.

She began early in the day, often worked long hours and occasionally filled in when other employees called in sick.

Finally, Huber's husband, Charles, told her that if she had to put so much time and energy into a store, she might as well operate her own shop.

Huber took this to heart, opening Paula's Donuts, at Englewood and Kenmore avenues in the University District, in 1996.

"I said, 'My God, I might as well do this for myself, if I'm going to kill myself,' " Huber said in an interview in a booth at Paula's Donuts.

Even as stiff competition from Tim Hortons and Dunkin' Donuts threatens locally owned doughnut shops, Paula's Donuts has toughed it out long enough to celebrate its 15th anniversary last month.

Customers appreciate the consistency of doughnuts that are baked fresh in the store every day, but Huber has mixed things up with new flavors, giant Texas doughnuts and a Paula's Facebook page.

Now, she's preparing to expand her business by opening a shop in Clarence in the spring.

"I know I have a good product. I know I can do it," Huber said of her doughnut-chain competition. "Just leave me alone in my little corner of Buffalo."

Oddly, for someone who devoted her working life to selling doughnuts, Huber said she didn't like doughnuts all that much when she was younger.

Huber, who didn't move to this area until after high school, has always liked baking but blames her husband and his family for sparking her love of doughnuts and the doughnut business.

She said two of her sisters-in-law and their husbands owned Dunkin' Donuts franchises.

Huber ended up owning a franchise in the Town of Tonawanda. As a franchisee, Huber liked taking advantage of Dunkin' Donuts' buying power and its ample advertising budget.

But she didn't like having to stay open 24 hours a day, having to buy her equipment and other goods through the corporation at the prices it sets, and having to sell what Dunkin' Donuts told her to sell. "Franchises are tough," Huber said.

After four years, she gave up the franchise to begin a job as supervisor of nine Mister Donuts.

After that, she oversaw the bakery departments of a Tops and a Jubilee Foods. "I love baking. It's very relaxing -- very therapeutic," Huber said.

When Huber started thinking about opening her own shop, she set her eye on a plaza next to the Valu Home Centers on Englewood Avenue.

At the time, Huber and her family lived across the street, and the building had been home to a Country Style Donuts and, later, a Dickie's Donuts.

Huber thought it was a good location with ample parking and it helped that it previously had been a doughnut shop.

Huber said she spent a lot of time at Paula's in the early days -- especially when the shop was open 24 hours each day.

"I was exhausted. That's why I'm crazy now -- I worked day and night," she said. The store is now open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.

She began to make enough money to invest in advertising, on billboards, TV and newspapers, and this marketing brought in more customers.

Paula's now sells between 250 and 300 dozen doughnuts on a typical day, with the most on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The peanut stick is their best seller, but they've added new flavors such as key lime and peanut butter cup at the suggestion of customers.

Huber said she used to worry more about competition from the big doughnut chains, with their drive-throughs, omnipresent advertising and slightly lower prices. "We're surrounded by them," Huber said.

But she outlasted Krispy Kreme and now she believes the quality of her doughnuts, and the ingredients, helps Paula's stand out in a crowded marketplace.

"It's the old-fashioned way. We cut by hand. We bake fresh daily, every day," Huber said.

They bake with 100 percent vegetable shortening, but their doughnuts can't be considered a light or low-fat treat.

Huber's daughter, Christy Wyzykiewicz, jokes that if a customer wants a low-cal doughnut, "You just cut it in half."

No one worried about calories is going to order the Texas doughnut, that's for sure.

Paula's started baking these about six years ago. They are giant honey dip rings, measuring more than 8 inches from one edge to the other and topped with frosting, pieces of candy or anything else you want.

"People loved it, so we do weddings now. We just did a bar mitzvah not too long ago," Huber said.

Paula's posts pictures of its funky Texas doughnuts and other, sugary, chocolaty treats on its Facebook page, which Wyzykiewicz set up in fall 2010.

The store uses the page to promote specials and let people know about the newest flavors.

"It's a good way to keep in contact with your customers," Wyzykiewicz said. Huber's other daughter, Lisa, also helps out at the store.

Paula's, which employs about 24 full- and part-time workers, has been looking to expand for a while because it's getting cramped in their kitchen area.

The store would have expanded at its current site, into space next door, but Huber worried that the building could be sold by her landlord.

Huber said a customer suggested the site on Main Street, east of Harris Hill Road, that she ended up selecting.

It's about 3,200 square feet, compared to 1,300 square feet at their Buffalo site, with most of that extra space in the baking area. There's no drive-through, but plenty of parking.

Huber said she hopes to open in March or April and she plans to hire another 20 to 25 employees. Paula's is seeking assistance from the Clarence Industrial Development Agency.

"I think it's going to be busy out there," Huber said.

She said, though, that Paula's will stay on Kenmore Avenue as long as it can. If their building is sold, Huber said she will look to reopen in another nearby site.