Candy bars, cereal, marshmallows, chili peppers – if it’s edible, the folks at Wake N Bake Donuts in Carolina Beach have probably tried to put it in or on one of America’s favorite breakfast items.
Open for just a little over a year, the donut shop tucked into a strip mall next to Food Lion by the end of Snow’s Cut Bridge has quickly become one of Pleasure Island’s most popular businesses. In fact, it’s ranked the #1 place to eat in Carolina Beach on TripAdvisor, a website built on user reviews, and has a perfect five out of five rating on the site.
“Business has been really good, we’ve exceeded what we thought we were going to do by three or four times,” said owner Danny Tangredi, who runs the place with his business partner and childhood friend JoDan Garza. “We’re doing really well in terms of customer service and overall experience.”
That relationship between Wake N Bake employees and the store’s patrons is something Tangredi says is vital for their business. That’s why he periodically runs contests and promotions to thank his loyal customers. This month, Tangredi and Wake N Bake are offering the ultimate prize: free donuts for a year.
“We wanted to figure out the contest of all contests,” said Tangredi.
Customers who come in between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. can fill out one raffle ticket per night to enter the contest. The winner will be chosen randomly in a drawing that will be live-streamed at the end of the month and will receive a black card that entitles him or her to a half-dozen donuts per day for every day the store is open in 2016. According to Tangredi, that’s a total of up to 2,172 donuts worth $3200.
“A lot of our night crowd is local, people from the island and just across the bridge,” Tangredi said. “We want to reward our customers for making us really popular.”
In addition to being able to connect with their customers through contests and social media (Wake N Bake’s Facebook and Instagram accounts have several thousand followers each), the local business has become popular because of its variety of innovative and often colorful specialty donuts. Though Tangredi said regular glazed donuts are their overall best sellers, their signature Wake N Bacon donut is their most popular topped one. Currently there are more than 30 flavors, some filled with creme, some stuffed with peanut butter, others simply glazed then dipped in a topping like cinnamon or cookie crumbles.
Tangredi said they’ve been working on new flavors to expand their menu, which has been added to just twice since they opened in the fall of 2014. Among the combinations that have made the cut so far is a spicy donut called “Dat Ghost Fire”, which will have both ghost and jalapeno peppers. Wake N Bake has been testing their potential menu items on customers, offering them as specials for a week to get feedback from donut lovers. This past week, Tangredi took inspiration from his Maryland roots with a donut called “Chesapeake Cream” that’s glazed with cream cheese and topped with Old Bay seasoning, a Maryland staple. So far, he’s gotten a lot of responses.
“We like things that get people involved,” Tangredi said. “We like to talk to our customers and treat them like they’re important, because everyone is important.”
Wake N Bake, which also serves cafe drinks, will be expanding their espresso menu in 2016 as well, adding more signature brews and pairing them with their donuts. New merchandise is available for purchase as Tangredi and Garza look to grow their business and franchise in other locations.
“There are a couple of spots we’re thinking of going to, one of them being Charlotte,” said Tangredi. “We pull customers from a lot of areas outside a 30-mile radius, so we feel we can take our brand to other places and be successful.”
Regardless of how big they get, Tangredi said their main focus will always be on building relationships with their customers and making sure they’re happy.
“Our style is just talking to customers. I’m not concerned about how long the line gets, I’m more concerned with the interactions we have with the people in that line,” said Tangredi, who offers drinks and samples to customers waiting in lines that can go out the door in the summer. “I encourage my employees to have conversations with people and take something away from them.”
After that, Wake N Bake’s bold and delicious donuts do the rest of the work.
“We get some complaints, but not many, and we address them right away,” Tangredi said. “People are generally happy when their tastebuds are happy.”