Original House of Donuts opens in downtown Tacoma

The Original House of Donuts opened the doors to its new location in downtown Tacoma Wednesday morning.

The Lakewood-based donut shop was opened in 1959 by husband-and-wife owners Bob and Marilyn Cheatham, who ran the business for 50 years. The business (including the secret recipes for donuts) was sold to Tacoma native Tom Peterson two-and-a-half years ago.

“We’re just an extension of grandma’s kitchen — where grandma used to make donuts from scratch,” Peterson told the Tacoma Daily Index this morning as customers stopped by to order donuts, coffee, and relax inside the store’s 1,500-square-foot space located at 766 St. Helens Ave. “We make the frostings. We make limited quantities. We just make good old-fashioned donuts by hand. We kind of call our donuts the working man’s donuts. We just make a great donut for a good price.”

In December, the Tacoma Daily Index reported the Original House of Donuts was expected to open in a storefront located near the intersections of South 9th Street, St. Helens Avenue, and Broadway (see “A sweet sign for downtown Tacoma donut lovers,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 9, 2014; and “Original House of Donuts hiring for new downtown Tacoma store,” Tacoma Daily Index, May 12, 2015; and Tacoma Daily Index Top Stories — May 2015,” Tacoma Daily Index, June 1, 2015). The shop is in a prime location, just across the street from Tully’s Coffee and the Pantages Theater, and near Tacoma City Hall. The space was previously occupied by the Downtown Vision Center.

Peterson said the store opened this morning with a ‘soft opening’ that will continue for the next several weeks before he celebrates a grand opening toward the end of this month. For now, the donut shop will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The donuts will be made at the Lakewood location, and the downtown location will employ 10 people. The Original House of Donuts also operates a mobile donut truck called the ‘Holy Roller.’

Peterson sat down with the Tacoma Daily Index this morning over a cup of coffee and a couple donuts to go to discuss the company’s history and the new downtown Tacoma location.

“Wow, what a great thing. Making donuts. It’s a lot of fun.”

Original House of Donuts used to be in Tacoma back in the 1960s. The roots were here. It was in Lakewood and had two shops in Tacoma. One shop was right off of Pacific Avenue and almost 9th Street. Another shop was over on 15th Street and Tacoma Avenue. In the 1970s, two of the shops closed down, and they kept one store alive in Lakewood. I purchased the company from the original founders two and a half years ago. I was looking for something to do and just wanted to find a brand that I could do something with. I thought, “Wow, what a great thing.” Making donuts. Happy food. People feel good. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a treat.

“I saw the donut shop and my truck kept pulling in there.”

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in Tacoma. I moved away in 1980 and went down to California. I met a crazy California girl, got married, had kids, and was in the manufacturing business in sporting goods making plastics. I had grown up in the roller skate business so I started manufacturing plastics for roller skates that grew into other products. I had two companies and sold them. I hadn’t worked in a while and re-located back to the Pacific Northwest and connected with friends. I saw the donut shop and my truck kept pulling in there. I thought, “Man, those were so good when I was a little kid.” I get goosebumps right now just thinking about the whole experience I had as a child at that donut shop.

“The [secret] recipes were about half of it. The other half was the process.”

All the recipes transferred over [when I bought the business]. I thought, “Wow, I’ve got the secret recipes.” Well, the recipes were about half of it. The other half was the process. We had to re-establish those processes and put them back together. One of the ultimate tests for us was when Marilyn Cheatham came in, bit into one of the maple bars, and said, “That’s like Bob used to make years ago.” We like to think we’re actually making the donuts a little bit better because we’ve cleaned up the process a little bit. We’re using a lot less shortening in the exact same product. We use hand-made frostings from scratch. Things like that. Marilyn is alive and well. I talked to her on the phone a couple weeks ago. One of her friends came by and took pictures and showed Marilyn. She was so excited. That’s our logo! Marilyn called me and said, “I heard you are opening in Tacoma.” She is living in Oregon with her daughter.

“This is the hub of downtown Tacoma.”

I think this location [in downtown Tacoma] is exciting being by the Rialto Theater, the Pantages Theater, the Farmer’s Market, and the City [Hall] building. I think this is the hub of downtown Tacoma. This intersection is a great location. And the City of Tacoma was great. The whole process was great. They walked us through some things. They held our hand. They did a great job for us. We’re just excited to be back in Tacoma.

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large and Wah Mee. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.

Original House of Donuts opened Wednesday morning in downtown Tacoma. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

Original House of Donuts opened Wednesday morning in downtown Tacoma. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)