CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The “Hot Now” sign has returned to Charlotte.
After closing its Queen City stores amid falling revenue, Krispy Kreme opened its first Charlotte doughnut shop in four years – a 2,800-square-foot building on North Sharon Amity Road.
The iconic sign letting people know that hot glazed doughnuts have just rolled off the conveyor belt was switched on at 6 a.m. Monday.
Dozens of people gathered outside the store by that time – lured by the smell of doughnuts and prizes awarded to the first 100 customers.
Todd Wilson and his son, Carter, had been driving past the Krispy Kreme for weeks, keeping an eye on the construction and the signs ticking off the days until the store’s grand opening.
And early Sunday morning, they pitched two tents.
“We’ve got one in front of each entrance, just in case there’s any confusion about who was first,” Todd Wilson said. “A couple people came by at 7 or 8 and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ ”
On Sunday, the Wilsons stood outside the store, throwing Frisbees and footballs, occasionally holding up signs that said, “Honk if you love doughnuts.”
The first person in line gets a dozen free glazed doughnuts every week for a year. The 98 people in line behind them will get a dozen free glazed doughnuts once a month for a year.
And the first 100 get T-shirts commemorating the doughnut chain’s newest store. The prices of a dozen glazed doughnuts varies from store to store but sells for $6.50 to $7.50 at several stores in the Charlotte region.
The Winston-Salem-based company sold its first doughnut in 1937. After going public in 2000, it became a Wall Street darling, with stores as far north as New York City and a stock price that once topped $50.
At its height in the middle of the decade, it had opened more than 400 stores, according to securities filings.
But the rapid expansion was unsustainable. A 2005 lawsuit accused former management of hiding evidence of dropping sales and profits. The company settled the case for $4.75 million.
Healthy eating trends also had an effect. So did competition from other chains, such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts has a dozen stores in Charlotte, according to its website.
More than 240 U.S. Krispy Kreme stores closed between 2004 and 2009, according to securities filings, including every store in Charlotte. The store on Woodlawn Road turned off its “Hot Now” sign for good in 2008.
The company mounted a comeback by opening stores in Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, South Korea and the Middle East. And at least one more Krispy Kreme is planned in the University City area.
The Wilsons remember eating doughnuts at the store on Providence Road, in Myers Park. Todd Wilson says he remembers grabbing glazed doughnuts with his parents and wanted to create more memories with his son.
“It’s like getting an iPhone. People say, ‘You can get an iPhone online,’ and you can get a doughnut anywhere. But I want (Carter) to say, ‘Remember that one time when we camped out for doughnuts?’ ”