Michigan destinations to sweeten your trip

By Susan R. Pollack

Greg “Ryno” Rynearson is president of Cops & Doughnuts, a cop-owned bakery, diner and shop that has put small-town Clare, MI, on the tourist map. Photo by Susan R. Pollack

What’s a road-trip without some special treats to ease the backseat boredom? Fortunately for travelers, Michigan has no shortage of sweet stops, from familiar chocolate-rich spots like Sanders and Kilwins to the many Mackinac Island fudge shops and ice cream parlors that dot the state. 

And while we would never bypass our old favorites, we’re always on the lookout for new discoveries — the kind of hidden gems that make us eager to hit the road. Here, we share a few lesser-known bakeries that merit a detour or are a worthy Michigan destination on their own. And, if your sweet tooth is up for it, you could hit both in one trip!

Sweetie-licious bakery owner touts the power of pie
Pies equal love. Linda Hundt learned that lesson early on when the turquoise Easy-Bake Oven she got for Christmas won her brothers’ affection. “It was the only time my brothers liked me,” she says of the goodies she created as a 5-year-old.

Hundt continues to spread the love — while striving to “change the world one pie at a time” — at Sweetie-licious Bakery-Café, a pretty little pie shop she opened in 2005 in the mid-Michigan community of DeWitt, near Lansing.

With a red-and-white-striped awning out front and piles of pink boxes, vintage cookbooks and kitschy decor inside, the cheery little bakery on the Looking Glass River is filled with sweet aromas and the nostalgic sounds of crooners like Frank Sinatra. Hundt touts it as “the cutest little pie shop in the whole world.”

And last year, the award-winning pie-maker opened two additional shops in Grand Rapids, one at the Downtown Market, the other in East Grand Rapids, and introduced her pies to a national audience through the Williams-Sonoma website and catalog. She also published a book, “Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life,” and appears before groups as an inspirational speaker.

Clad in old-fashioned aprons, the effervescent entrepreneur and her crews roll out mounds of dough and crimp perfect crusts for more than 40 kinds of pie — several of them prize-winners. From Pink Lemonade and Peach Rhubarb to Browned Butter Coconut Chess, many are refined from treasured family recipes Hundt learned at the aprons of her mother, aunts and grandmother, who collectively inspired her lifelong passion for pie baking. And each of the pies has a sweet back-story about family or friends, all detailed in flowing script on her website.

Last Thanksgiving, the bakeries sold more than 1,000 pies in three busy days and nearly 800 in the last few days before Christmas, Hundt says. Other made-from-scratch comfort foods and childhood favorites also star on the Sweetie-licious menu, including plump muffins and cupcakes, chewy cookies and brownies and tasty quiche, soups, salads and sandwiches.

“People love the throwback atmosphere,” says Hundt, a self-described Donna Reed-wannabe who often wears retro dresses under her aprons. “This whole shop — eating pie and making pies — takes you back to a simpler, bygone time. People relate to that; they want more of that in their lives.”

Hundt has made numerous TV appearances, including the “Today Show” and “The Steve Harvey Show.” Her 19 national awards include the Food Network’s “Amazing Pie Challenge” and the Crisco 100th Anniversary Innovation “Best in Show.” Food and Wine magazine also named her Sticky Toffee Pudding Caramel Apple Pie among the nation’s best pies.

A former substitute teacher and appointment scheduler for a Michigan governor, Hundt started peddling fresh-baked pies to local farm markets and restaurants in 2002. She also sold them from the back porch of her family’s century-old farmhouse, where customers dropped money in a bucket after helping themselves to her pie safe.

Running her own bakery is a lifelong dream. “Being at the shop, baking pies, it definitely helps me,” says the mother of two grown daughters.

As one of her favorite signs in the bakery proclaims, “Pie Fixes Everything.”

Check www.sweetie-liscious.com or call 517-669-9300.


Cops & Doughnuts: bakery’s path to sweet success is paved with sugar and sprinkles
Six years ago, police officers in Clare learned the city’s bakery, a downtown institution since 1896, was about to close. Commiserating over lunch, the nine-member force hatched a rescue plan, kicking in $1,500 each to buy it.

And then, in a stroke of branding genius, the officers capitalized on an old cliché and named their enterprise Cops & Doughnuts. The catchy moniker, combined with savvy marketing, drew widespread headlines and hordes of customers, not only reviving the once-dying downtown but turning the small mid-Michigan city into a tourist destination.

Fans have come from all 50 states and internationally to sample the bakery’s made-from-scratch goodies with tongue-in-cheek names, from the apple-studded Felony Fritter to the Bacon Squealer, a maple-frosted long john topped with two bacon strips. The Deputy, Night Stick and Taser are among popular other sweet treats.

From a handful of employees in 2009 to nearly 50 today, Cops & Doughnuts has expanded rapidly, taking over three adjacent downtown buildings. There’s also a satellite “precinct” in a neighboring town, two daily delivery routes with nearly 50 stops and a thriving mail-order division.

“We’re not just a bakery, we’re an event,” says Greg “Ryno” Rynearson, a cop co-owner and hands-on president who took early retirement from the police force to oversee what he calls the retail “fun and games.”

Visitors, he says, easily can spend a couple of hours in and around Cops & Doughnuts, munching sandwiches such as the Stool Pigeon (chicken salad) and Misdemeanor Wiener in the Traffic Stop Diner, which opened in 2012. They also inspect police department patches and other memorabilia and pose for mug shots in the Cop Shop.

Merchandise ranges from colorful T-shirts, tank tops and short shorts to bumper stickers and beverage cups. Each is emblazoned with a slogan such as: “You have the right to remain glazed,” “D.W.I.: Doughnuts Were Involved,” “Hand Cuffs and Cream Puffs,” or “Buns & Guns.”
Rynearson, 52, can be found meeting and greeting customers and supervising Cops & Doughnuts’ social media outreach (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it) along with its buzzing mail-order division.

In addition to a donut-fueled Valentine’s Day, for example, the bakery in February shipped 5,000 Fat Tuesday orders to addresses in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C., St. Croix and as far away as Okinawa, Japan. Each box contained six of the jelly-filled donuts whose Polish name is paczki (poonch-key), he says.

Other items include Cops Coffee and, believe it or not, made-in-Michigan cologne. Both lines, naturally, have police-themed product names. The coffee comes in Off Duty (decaf), Morning Shift (medium) and Midnight Shift (dark roast), while the colognes — for women and men — are named Miss Behavin, Under Suspicion and Probable Cause.

Rynearson and his cop-partners are proud that they not only saved downtown Clare from vacant buildings and blight but also put the small city of about 3,100 residents on tourist maps. Pointing out that Clare is located in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, “halfway to everywhere in the state,” he boasts: “We had 500,000 people go through our three stores last year alone — we’re truly in the travel mix now.”

And, Rynearson says with a wink, why not? With seven of his partners still working their beats, Cops & Doughnuts is easily the safest place around.

Check www.copsdoughnuts.com
989-968-4488 or 989-386-2241.

Susan R. Pollack is an award-winning travel writer based in Huntington Woods. A Michigan native, she still pines for the chocolate phosphates she slurped on childhood Saturdays at the former Diana’s Sweet Shoppe in Port Huron and the fresh limeades and other goodies at the long-gone Drake’s Sandwich Shop in Ann Arbor.

Donckers sells sweets near Lake Superior’s shore

Candy-maker Akasha Morherudaen makes hand-crafted treats at Donckers, an old-fashioned sweet shop in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. Photo by Susan R. Pollack

Candy-maker Akasha Morherudaen makes hand-crafted treats at Donckers, an old-fashioned sweet shop in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula. Photo by Susan R. Pollack

If you find yourself in Marquette, MI, overlooking Lake Superior, reward yourself after that long trip to the Upper Peninsula with handcrafted candies — chocolates, caramels, fudge and more — from Donckers, an old-fashioned soda fountain, candy kitchen and cafe in the heart of downtown.

Serving up sandwiches and sweets for more than a century in the same location, this Marquette institution exudes old-school charm with tin ceilings, wooden booths, marble counters and sweets galore, including hand-mixed shakes, malts and sundaes topped with fresh whipped cream.

Sea salt caramels are a Donckers specialty (there’s even a habanero version). Other chocolate confections include truffles, cookie caramels, pretzel rods and bark spiked with almonds, blueberries and other fruit. Many are made with natural, locally sourced ingredients, and all elicit a one-word declaration: yum!

Check www.donckersonline.com; (906) 226-6110.