The heady aroma of fried dough seems to bring memories of sunburned days in Ocean City for customers of the Fractured Prune, the new doughnut shop in Columbia's Hickory Ridge Village Center.
That is because, until recently, Fractured Prune doughnuts were available only in Ocean City. Now, franchises are popping up throughout Maryland and the East Coast, including two in Howard County.
"We used to go the beach every year since I was a kid, and we would have a tradition of going to the Fractured Prune," said Les Wachterman, who lives in Columbia and recently purchased a chocolate-covered doughnut from the Columbia outlet.
The Ellicott City store, next to Rita's on Frederick Road, is opening soon.
Kevin and Joyce Bland, who opened the Columbia outlet, are starting Fractured Prune stores in Urbana, Md.; Charlotte, N.C.; and in Florida. They first heard about the doughnut store a couple of years ago from their son, Chris, now 17, who noticed the long lines outside a Fractured Prune outlet in Ocean City.
"I couldn't believe people would wait in line two hours," Kevin Bland said. "People love them."
Kevin Bland, a former heating-air conditioning technician who lives in Montgomery County, was so inspired that he purchased six franchises. Chris, a high school senior, will run the three Florida stores, all in the Orlando area, after he graduates. For now, he is learning the ropes while helping his parents at the Columbia store.
"They're awesome," Chris said of the doughnuts. "They're the best-tasting doughnut I've ever had."
Fractured Prune makes each doughnut to order, serving it hot out of the fryer. After a customer places an order, the doughnut-making machine drops a ring of batter into oil to cook. Glazes and toppings are added as soon as the doughnut has finished cooking and well before it has had time to cool.
"Our doughnuts are made to order," Kevin Bland said. "We don't make them until you order them. ... If a doughnut sits more than five minutes, we throw it away."
Though all the doughnuts are made with the same sweet and light yellow cake batter - no chocolate or blueberry, for example - Fractured Prune encourages customers to come up with their own combinations of glazes and toppings, choosing from glaze options including honey, orange, blueberry, mint, peanut butter and banana; and toppings that include powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs, peanuts and Oreo cookie bits.
Suggested combinations include O.C. Sand, a honey glaze with a cinnamon-sugar topping, and Morning Buzz, with mocha glaze and Oreo crumbs. But no combination is too outlandish.
Fractured Prune dates to the 1960s and has three Ocean City outlets: the main one, on 127th street, one on 28th Street and another at Route 611 and Sunset Avenue. The store's unusual name was chosen by owner Tom Parshall in 1976, inspired by a 19th-century Ocean City landowner named Prunella Shriek.
The Hickory Ridge store, like all Fractured Prune locations, is decorated in purple and green. The store also sells coffee, sandwiches and bagels, but the doughnuts are the main attraction.
Two shiny doughnut-making machines are behind the counter, as are the containers of glazes and toppings. Each machine can make 40 dozen doughnuts an hour, Kevin Bland said.
When customers walk in, they are asked if they have ever been to Fractured Prune. If not, the process is explained. Kevin Bland says he is selling more than a doughnut; he's selling an experience. And for Wachterman, it is an experience he wants to share.
"I'm going to tell my brother about this," he said.
Fractured Prune, 6470 Freetown Road, Columbia, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 410-531-6916.