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Paula’s Donuts empire grows with soon-to-open West Seneca shop

Paula Huber will open her third and largest doughnut shop in West Seneca’s Southgate Plaza on Oct. 1.

In a market dominated by fast-food doughnuts produced by Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts, Paula’s are hand-cut and fried fresh every day.

Buffalo doughnut favorites Freddie’s, Jet and Dickie’s are gone, and Paula’s is one of the few independents left standing.

But Paula’s Donuts’ mini empire was not built overnight.

“They see me now, but they didn’t see me killing myself for 15 years, dragging myself in here in the mornings,” Huber said.

Sure, she’s inundated with expansion offers and franchise inquiries. But for 17 years, Paula’s Donuts quietly served angel creams and peanut sticks from a tiny, well-worn doughnut shop on Kenmore Avenue.

It had a loyal following among its North Buffalo and Kenmore neighbors. Day after day, the same regulars sat at the counter, sipping their coffee and chatting with workers.

As buzz built, she opened a second location in Clarence in 2012. Amid much fanfare in 2013, she moved the Kenmore Avenue store to a much larger, bustling location on Sheridan Drive, where it’s not unusual to see customers queued two dozen deep.

Her fans are enthusiastic, to say the least. The Paula’s Donuts page has more than 27,000 likes on Facebook. Food Network host Alton Brown passed through Buffalo in November, singling out Paula’s Donuts for its excellence.

“These doughnuts absolutely rank with some of the best I’ve ever had,” he wrote on his Road Eats blog. “More specifically, their sour cream old-fashioned absolutely hits the mark. They’ve nailed it.”

In February, her Frosted Angel Cream doughnut made Buzzfeed’s list, “33 Doughnuts You Have to Try Before You Die.” It referenced a local couple who served the restaurant’s giant Texas Doughnut in place of a wedding cake.

“Any doughnut place that caters weddings deserves an A+ already,” wrote Candace Lowry.

Eager fans stop by the new site at 936 Union Road almost daily, asking when the store will be finished. Huber often hands them a free doughnut and tells them she’s scrambling to meet a targeted Oct. 1 opening.

The store is located in the main building facing Union Road at the plaza’s south end. There is a tile mosaic in the floor depicting a 4-foot-wide frosted-cake doughnut.

At 4,800 square feet, it’s more than three times the size of the original Kenmore Avenue store, which she vacated after 17 years after losing her lease in 2013.

Huber hopes that’s big enough. The store will employ 80 people, which is 25 to 30 more people than her Sheridan Drive and Clarence locations.

“When we moved to Sheridan Drive, we doubled the size, but we’re still bumping into each other,” Huber said.

Huber said she is approached often with franchise inquiries, but she’s not interested.

Hopeful franchisees wouldn’t be either, she said, if they knew what went into the business.

Though it is open from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., it’s a 24-hour operation, seven days a week.

“People don’t realize what hard work it is,” she said.

At 60 years old, she’s ready to slow down herself. But she keeps getting offers she can’t refuse.

She knows better than to reveal what territory she’s thinking of conquering next. When news broke that she was considering the southtowns location, it spread like wildfire on social media. So for now, the plan is to get the southtowns location open, take a breath, and then see what happens.

Nearby retailers in the Southgate Plaza have their own hopes for what may come.

“It’s gonna mean a lot more traffic in and out of the plaza,” said Jim Campofelice, general manager of the plaza. “It’s going to bring a lot of new people into the plaza that maybe haven’t been here in a long time.”

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