The travel and lifestyle blog of In My Footsteps Podcast host and author Christopher Setterlund. Discovering and sharing the best of today and yesterday. Beautiful and inspiring places to visit now, along with incredible stories of times gone by. From Cape Cod to New England and beyond, from present-day, to some classic 1980's nostalgia, to days long gone by. There is something for everyone here much like with the podcast.
In Their Footsteps - Cape Cod History: Sullivan's Donut Shop, Hyannis
last of the Irish donut makers.
was a staple of downtown Hyannis for two decades in the times before
Dunkin’ Donuts resided on nearly every street corner on Cape Cod.
After successfully running three other doughnut shops in Brockton in
the 1950s and ’60s, John “Sully” Sullivan was making doughnuts
at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in 1971, when he
was hired by James Despotopulos to work at his Sugar N’ Spice
doughnut shop in South Yarmouth. Despotopulos had opened his shop in
1969 after moving to Cape Cod from Stoughton.
was seen as the unofficial mayor of Brockton, rubbing elbows with the
likes of Cesar Romero and his close friend Rocky Marciano. Never the
less he moved his wife, Rosemarie, and their five children to the
mid-Cape area. There he hoped to settle into a quieter routine,
escaping the busier and sometimes dangerous streets of Brockton in
the early 1970s.
too long after Sullivan left Sugar N’ Spice, he worked at a Dunkin’
Donuts on the corner of Forest Road and Route 28 in South Yarmouth
that still stands as of 2019. Doughnut making was a passion of
Sully’s; it also ran in the family. Sullivan’s father, also named
John Sullivan, had run a doughnut shop in Hampton Beach, New
Hampshire, before World War II. It was not long before Sullivan’s
Donut Shop lived again, this time on the corner of Bearse’s Way and
Route 28 in Hyannis. After purchasing equipment from a closing Jack In the Box fast food restaurant the new shop opened in late 1975 and gained
popularity from the get-go.
doughnuts were made the old-fashioned way in large vats of oil, with
bakers using sticks to flip the sweet lumps of dough and make sure
they were properly cooked on each side. These doughnuts were heavier
and more filling and satisfying. They came in all sorts of delicious
shapes and sizes. There were classic honey-dipped, chocolate frosted
and jelly-filled; there were crullers, coffee rolls and doughnut
holes. There were also delectable muffins and coffee, of course.
it opened very early for people on their way to work, some could not
wait until sunrise for a fresh and hot doughnut. Sully would open his
back door before officially opening for the day and sell doughnuts to
customers. This practice has been made well-known thanks to Back Door
Donuts, located in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. This is part of
the Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery, which opened in
The counter inside Sullivan’s Donut Shop
there was much more than just the run of the mill doughnut shop lying in those four walls. Sullivan’s was a meeting
place before there was Starbucks, and it was every bit a family-run
business. Sully’s wife, sons and daughters all worked hard to make
each and every customer feel welcome. In return, the customers made
Sullivan’s a destination. There were also times that the customers
were the staff. A handful of regulars knew how to open the shop, and
once the doors were unlocked, they would happily help with the setup,
pulling down stools and starting the coffee.
were several unique touches to Sullivan’s that made it more than
just coffee and doughnuts. For starters, there was a piano located in
the corner of the shop; no other Cape Cod doughnut shop could lay
claim to that. Said piano would be played daily by the house piano
player, Barnstable High School English teacher Ed Milk. It was also
played by legendary jazz pianist Dave McKenna. Considered to be one
of the finest pianists in the world during his career, McKenna, also
a neighbor of Sully’s, would often play music to the delight of
customers and to pay for his doughnuts.
moving to Cape Cod in 1966, McKenna played many shows at local bars
and nightclubs. Sully remarked that he would often go into work at
the doughnut shop at 1:00 a.m. This was around the time that most of
the local bars would close, and the musicians, including McKenna, who
had been playing would come knocking on the door looking for
something to eat. Legend has it that McKenna once ate eighteen hot
honey-dipped doughnuts in one sitting but stopped there; telling
Sully he “didn’t want to seem like a pig.”
unique to Sullivan’s was the meticulous, hand-painted mural of the
mid-Cape area on the wall of the shop. It was common for customers to
walk over to the mural, coffee or doughnut in hand, and stare in
wonder at the painstaking detail put into this piece of art.
popularity stretched beyond the average joes who stopped in before
work. Legendary Boston Bruins announcer Fred Cusick enjoyed popping
in for a visit when he was around during the 1970s and ’80s.
Kennedy chauffeur Tommy Roderick also frequented the donut shop,
picking up a box because “Jackie loved blueberry muffins.” So
popular was Sullivan’s that Barnstable Police remarked to Sully
that if they were ever looking for a suspect in Hyannis they would
simply stake out Sullivan’s and neighboring Christy’s, because
whomever they were looking for would end up there eventually.
thrived into the 1990s, when construction at the plaza where it
resided caused the shop to be closed for a while. It had been
featured on the corner of the plaza with glass windows facing the
traffic; now it had been pushed inside to a smaller location.
Unfortunately, business suffered, and Sullivan’s closed early in
Where Sullivan's Donuts once stood in Hyannis.
of the equipment used to make the doughnuts at Sullivan’s was
bought by the Hole In One Donut Shop. This company, run by four
sisters, continues to make doughnuts the old-fashioned way to this
day, even in a world filled with Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme.
They are still going strong as of 2019, with locations in Eastham and
of this writing, a convenience store sits where Sullivan’s once