Fractured Prune Doughnuts, the Ocean City phenomenon known for hand-dipped doughnuts made-to-order with a choice of glazes, toppings and sugar, is going national.
A new owner plans to spread the concept across the United States and open 50 new franchised stores in the next three years, with about 20 in the Baltimore area. New shops will open by the end of the year at the Inner Harbor and in Towson and Westminster, said CEO Dan Brinton, who bought the company this year from previous owner Sandy Tylor.
Tylor, who oversaw the company's growth over the past few decades, will continue running her shop on 127th Street in Ocean City and act as a brand adviser.
The 37-year-old chain now has 13 locations in Maryland, including Ocean City, Parkville, Halethorpe, Frederick and Salisbury, and in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Later this month, a Fractured Prune will open in Utah, with more planned for New York City, Philadelphia, northern New Jersey, Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, Idaho, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Brinton said.
The owner, a former franchise director for various food concepts, saw in Fractured Prune a proven brand and product that speaks to today's consumer. Customers can embellish their doughnuts with a choice of 15 glazes and 15 toppings or pick from offerings such as French Toast (maple, cinnamon and sugar) Blueberry Hill, (blueberry glaze and powdered sugar) and Morning Buzz, (mocha, chocolate and cookie crumbs) among others.
"Being hot, fresh, made-to-order and customized is hitting a trend line not only in our little doughnut world, but in the food industry in general," Brinton said. "People love customization."
And Fractured Prune is ripe for expansion, he said.
"It's been a sleepy little company with an extremely loyal following across the country," he said. "People who visit the Maryland shore and the Jersey shore love this product. People love doughnuts. It brings back part of their youth."
Fractured Prune started selling made-to-order cake doughnuts in Ocean City in 1976, when original owner Tom Parshall bought a market he turned into a doughnut shop and went looking for a unique name. Research into his new property’s land records led him to a quirky Ocean City character.
He discovered a land owner from the late 1800s named Prunella Shriek, an athlete known for competing in her 70s with men in skiing, ice skating, tennis and ping-pong. Shriek earned the nickname "Fractured Prunella" by returning from competitions with broken bones, on crutches or in a wheelchair.
Parshall named his shop after Prunella and eventually sold his business to Tylor, who had worked for him, and "she grew it to what it is today," Brinton said.
Brinton said he expects to have about 50 new franchise agreements signed in the next six months. Already, franchisees have signed 40 such agreements.
"The interest has been overwhelming," he said.
Opening a franchise costs $95,000 to $185,000, depending on the shop's size. That includes a $30,000 franchise fee, Brinton said. Potential franchisees do not need to have a food background, though it is preferred, but must have $500,000 in liquidity.
As it grows, Fractured Prune will be competing against entrenched national chains such as Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and their strong marketing campaigns, said Jeremy Diamond, director of Diamond Marketing Group, a Baltimore-based food consulting, marketing and advisory brokerage.
"Fractured Prune can succeed if they carve out a niche for their shops," Diamond said. "Fractured Prune has a great story, great product and fun atmosphere.
"If they can successfully offer something — a product or great service or value — that the large doughnut franchises can't do, they will do great," he said. "The good thing about a smaller company like Fractured Prune is they can change strategy quicker than the larger companies."
New Fractured Prune shops will be updated and modern but sell the same doughnuts that have been made for decades, Brintonsaid. Besides feeling strongly about the doughnuts, Brinton said he was attracted by the chain's history.
Parshallcame up with "the perfect name for a doughnut shop," he said. "Even though we have nothing in the store that has anything to do with a prune."