When Gerry Cote was 19, he decided to start his own donut shop. First, he visited a donut maker in Avon to observe the business model and learn the tricks of the trade. Then he signed a twelve-year lease on a defunct 7-11 store on Windsorville Road in Ellington, renovated it with the help of his father, figured out his own donut recipes, and opened the door for business. The year was 1983 and Gerry’s Donuts has been an Ellington institution ever since. About his life path, Gerry himself says, “Sometimes you fall into things in life, and they turn out to be the best things.”
This thin, unassuming, modest guy whose “uniform” includes a soft, worn apron and one of those old-fashioned paper hats, doesn’t like to talk about himself. But with some gentle coaxing, he reveals that for those first few years, much of what he did at the donut shop was by trial and error. Fortunately, Gerry is a perfectionist who sums up his life philosophy as, “You’re only as good as today, so you need to keep improving.” And obviously he did. His donuts quickly became legendary, and for 35 years now, people have been coming from all over to get them. One regular customer, Adam Schumacher, drives to Gerry’s from Coventry with his young son, Ryan. While Ryan prefers to get a corn muffin, Adam proclaims Gerry’s donuts to be “the best in the world.” They were even voted “Best Donut” in the 2017 CT Now Best of Hartford Readers’ Poll.
So what is it exactly that makes these donuts stand out from the competition’s? Most notably, they are made by Gerry himself entirely by hand, entirely from scratch. He starts by getting to the shop in the still-dark, very early hours of the morning. He makes and rolls the dough, then cuts, pulls, shapes and fries each and every donut. Some flavors, like the ever-popular Boston Cream, he also fills and frosts. Gerry says it takes him about three hours to make 100 dozen donuts. Employee Bree Maxwell adds that Gerry has so perfected his particular process that after doing this for 35 years “he can tell time without a clock.” She adds that what he does “no machine can replicate.” People can watch Gerry at work on videos that are posted on the business’s Facebook page alongside dozens of pictures of the finished products.
Gerry currently carries some 46 donut flavors total, 36 of which he puts out daily, rotating the varieties. He adds in a slight whisper that there are some flavors he has in mind that he is still working on, saying, “You make things here and there just for fun.” The most popular flavor is chocolate honey dip, which regularly sells out on the weekends. People love to pair the old-fashioned cinnamon donut with a cup of apple cider, especially this time of year. And for those with a real sweet tooth, one of his newest flavors is cherry vanilla, a white-frosted pink confection that tastes like springtime. Gerry offers cake donuts, raised donuts, filled donuts and crullers as well as over 40 rotating flavors of hand-mixed, from-scratch muffins and other baked goods like brownies, cookies and croissants. Everything is made in-house, always fresh every day.
These super-fresh, perfect-tasting old-fashioned donuts and other treats are not the only reason people come to Gerry’s. The shop has a small-town American diner feel - a large counter lined with red-topped stainless steel stools, behind which hang shiny glass display cases filled with donuts. That nostalgic quality also extends to the outstanding value of Gerry’s products, where the current price of a donut is only 70 cents. “A donut shop used to be where people spent their pocket change for a little bit of pleasure every day, and doesn’t everybody need that,” Gerry says, adding, “I have to give people a lot of reasons to walk through the door.” One customer, Hank McFarlane, walks through that door three times a day because he loves the donuts, muffins and coffee, yes, but more because of the atmosphere and the fact that at Gerry’s he is treated like family. He says, “This is like Cheers in Boston – they all know me here,” adding that the employees know exactly how the regular customers take their coffee, often putting it out for them before they have even made their way through the door from the parking lot.
Gerry admits that is true, saying that over the three and a half decades he has been running this shop, he has met and come to know “hundreds and hundreds of people.” He and his employees are like family, and his donuts are so well-known around town that it is not unusual for someone to give him a donut order while he’s out walking his dog or sitting on his front porch. He is easy-going and filled with pride in how much people love his donuts, saying, “Who you are is in your work.”
This back-to-basics approach is even evident in the Gerry’s Donuts package itself, a plain white pastry box that says, simply, “Gerry’s Donuts” and a line from the Gospel of Mark, “With God all things are possible.” No address, no phone number. The donuts speak for themselves, and Gerry says he chose this particular quotation to show that “Things will always work out if you have inner strength and believe in yourself. Everybody can find their niche in life if they keep trying.”
Thankfully, for Gerry’s customers and the donut-loving people of the Go Local area, Gerry Cote discovered his niche 35 years ago and is still going strong.
Gerry’s Donuts is located at 180 Windsorville Road in Ellington. They are open Monday-Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sunday 7:00 a.m. to noon. Their phone number is 860.872.0376 and they welcome people to call ahead for larger orders. The menu and more information can be found on their Facebook page.