Thanks to Southview Garden Center for their support.
After more than 30 years, it seems the legacy of West St. Paul’s Granny Donuts is coming to an end. The doughnut shop has sold their building to developers as part of the Town Center One project.
Initially Granny Donuts owner Xuan To and his wife Que Banh had resisted purchase offers, to the point that the project was planned around the old Granny Donuts building. But something changed and Granny Donuts has agreed to sell.
“I’d like to stay in this building forever,” To said in a 2014 Pioneer Press story about potential redevelopment. At the time, To and his wife met with city officials and said they weren’t interested in selling.
There is a purchase agreement in place, but the sale is not yet final. It’s unclear at this time if Granny Donuts will continue at another location or close permanently. It seems likely the shop will close. (December 11, 2020 Update: Granny Donuts is permanently closing.)
The Town Center One project will come back to the Planning Commission on November 17 with changes. Those changes include reducing the building height from five stories to four, adding eight additional units, expanding the retail by an additional 250 square feet, adding 13 parking spaces, and moving the dog park so it abuts Robert Street (plans note that it’s still set back 26 feet from the street).
To and Banh came to the U.S. in 1979 as refugees from Vietnam. To served as an officer in the South Vietnamese Army. Initially the couple settled in Casper, Wyoming, where Banh worked in another Granny’s doughnut shop. Encouraged by family to move to Minnesota, they opened Granny Donuts in West St. Paul on Feb. 1, 1987 (with the blessing of the doughnut shop in Casper).
Before To and Banh opened Granny Donuts, the location had hosted Bosa Donuts and Winchell’s Donut House.
Granny Donuts is most famous for the love/hate relationship customers have developed. The shop only takes cash and To is known to add a doughnut to a box of a dozen and round the price up. Some people aren’t amused, and this and other gruff customer service has earned him the “doughnut Nazi” nickname. Others report stories of generosity and care, with regulars crowding the place on weekend mornings and To often giving kids free doughnut holes on a stick.
The iconic shop has featured frequently in the work of local artist Carolyn Swiszcz. It’s the focus of her latest issue of Zebra Cat Zebra (you can grab a copy on Etsy) and numerous paintings.
Finally a Break
To and his wife work notoriously hard—the shop used to be open every day 24/7. The hours have cut back in recent years, but they still put in 16 to 18 hour days.
“We have a job to do, and we’re happy,” Banh said in a 2011 Star Tribune story.
At least until COVID-19. Granny Donuts closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened. To and Banh finally got a well-deserved vacation, and now maybe a retirement.
We’re able to do these local stories with your generous support.
(Exterior photo by Carolyn Swiszcz)
Very sad to see. I worked at Winchell’s back in high school. Fond memories and so many stories.
That’s too bad they’re going it was a staple in West Saint Paul and in Saint Paul for that matter, but we have to look to the Future and make room for slum housing enjoy your crime West Saint Paul.
Love hate relationship. Love their donuts. When ordering for my group at Fed Ex. He had in his own mine what I was going to buy. He was trying to sell me the ones that weren’t selling fast. At least he tried. I’d come in at 5:30 in the morning and I could hear him snoring in the chair around the corner. LOL. He ran his business old school. Worked hard and deserves everything he gets.
He will be missed! He made fabulous donuts! Maybe we can convince him and his wife to open a shop by Aldi’s ! There is a good spot next to Weight Watchers ! We can try! Maybe he will read these comments and reconsider! I was told there will be retail spots in the apartment building! There are also retail spots in the shops going up by Cub!
Shopped there three times, and each time, he treated me terribly. The last time, he was putting donuts I had not asked for in a box and I opened the lid to show him. He slammed the lid down hard on my hand, and yelled at me – and in doing so, smashed the donuts. He overcharged me, as well. I never went back. Maybe treating customers like they were wasting his time was a gimmick that worked for him, but it didn’t work for me. May he have a nice, long retirement on a mountain top where he can’t treat others like crap.
And now your indignation does no one any good. You can go spit on his grave when he dies if that makes you feel better.
Your review might be more worthwhile on Yelp.
Was it just me, or did Xuan To never give change, just throw in an extra donut? Sad to see them go, thank you for your service to the community!
Best donuts and best donut maker. We will miss them