As appeared in the Villager September 2022 issue.

Dunkin’ to Renovate

Jacksonville McDonald’s

by Michael Ruby

OK boomers. Here’s a test for you. With nearly 9,500 locations in 41 of the 50 United States, what’s the name of the franchise known for its self-described premium blends and cheap frosted treats?

If you said Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re a boomer…someone born in the two decades after World War II and now subject to dismissive retorts by their millennial offspring for being resistant to change.

But change is coming to the Four Corners area of Jacksonville (no matter what your age) that is replacing one iconic multinational fast food restaurant — closed since 2020 — with a multinational coffee and donut store that could be opening in six months.

Rebranded since 2018, a Dunkin’ store will be taking over the former McDonald’s restaurant building located at the Manor Shopping Center, according to officials for the retail center at Four Corners in northeastern Baltimore County.

““McDonald’s unfortunately elected not to extend their lease despite a 40-year history in Jacksonville,” said Patricia O’C. B. Farley, managing partner for the partnership that owns and operates the Manor Center in a prepared statement announcing the lease agreement. “However, a closing door opened another and we are very pleased to have Dunkin’ on-board.”

The Manor Shopping Center is a frequent advertiser in the Country Chronicle and Villager community newspapers, including an advertisement in the current issue of the Villager.

Ends speculation

The recent announcement of the new Dunkin’ franchise ends years of speculation over what would inhabit the only eatery structure in the rural village with a drive thru window and appropriate stacking lane for cars. Plus it ends an exhaustive and often frustrating eight-year-long search by the deep fried confectionary provider for a suitable location in town. Multiple sites — from the Shop Rite property to the former veterinary clinic parcel on Sweet Air Road and even the old dry cleaning building on Jarrettsville Pike — were considered and rejected for reasons ranging from insufficient well water to deed restrictions to traffic issues.

“We were looking for a good location in Jacksonville and the former McDonald’s site turned out to be the best option with a drive-thru, plenty of parking, easy in-and-out access from both Sweet Air Road and Jarrettsvile Pike, and synergy with the surrounding services,” said Ghashym “Raj” Patel, owner/operator of the Dunkin’s franchisee coming to the area.

When complete, the Jacksonville Dunkin’s will be Patel’s eleventh franchise in the area with one in Harford County, one in Baltimore City and the others in eastern Baltimore County. His closest Dunkin to the Jacksonville store is in White Marsh, he said.

Patel also owns other commercial and retail real estate in the Baltimore area, he added.

Two dozen jobs

Now that a lease has been signed, Patel said work should begin “by mid-October” on converting the former McDonald’s building into the donut and beverage distributor.

Following the estimated $900,000 renovation, donuts — or more properly, doughnuts, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, those fried rings of dough caked in sugar, icing, sprinkles, coconut and other delicious toppings and fillings — should be available from the Jacksonville Dunkin’ store in March 2023. About two dozen jobs will be created by the new business, he added.

Only after the Massachusetts-based chain Dunkin’ Donuts was founded in 1950 and began franchising in 1955 did the shortened spelling become popular, reputedly to save money on signs by having fewer letters.

That other invaluable contribution to American popular culture, Munchkin donut hole treats, were introduced in 1972 and since then the Dunkin’ menu has expanded to include frozen drinks and smoothies, all-day food options and seasonally-flavored beverages, such as the ever-popular pumpkin spice coffee that gets re-introduced earlier and earlier every year.

Today, there are more than 12,000 Dunkin’ franchises in 45 countries, including 308 in Maryland, serving 1.9 billion cups of coffee every year, according to the company’s web site.

Commuter traffic

Patel said generally 60 percent of his stores’ revenues are generated from beverage sales with another 25 percent from donut purchases and the rest a mix of sandwiches and other menu items. Thanks to the drive-thru feature, he expects to concentrate mostly on the commuter traffic of Harford County homeowners passing by the site while on their way to work in Hunt Valley and Towson. But he also said he is working to become a part of the community, including gaining concessions from Dunkin’s corporate officials to tone down the usually cartoonish design of the facility to blend in better with the Jacksonville village’s sensibilities.

That focus on commuter traffic means the existing Bagelmeister, locally-owned and operated eatery located in the Manor Shopping Center, may go unscathed when the new neighbor opens. The bagel, beverage and deli sandwich shop has been serving Jacksonville residents for 30 years.

“It’ll put a crimp in our business,” acknowledge Tiffany Peotter, co-owner of Bagelmeister with her husband, Mark. “But we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

'Unlikely to flip'

Despite some overlap in items served, Manor Center’s Farley said regulars who enjoy Bagelmeister’s specialty sandwiches and other items along with the friendly, first-name-basis customer service “are unlikely to flip to Dunkin’s.”

“Bagelmeister and McDonald’s co-existed for decades with McDonald’s serving coffee as well as a breakfast menu,” added Farley. “There was no conflict. Bagelmeister specializes in bagels and pastries and Dunkin’ is more widely recognized by consumers for drive-thru coffee and donuts.”

On a recent Saturday morning following the Dunkin’s announcement, there was a steady line of customers being served at the Bagelmeister counter, artwork from Jacksonville Elementary students hung on the walls, and the tables were full of patrons who were not only enjoying their coffee and nosh but also — instead of looking at cell phone screens — were having conversations with each other.

Acting just like a bunch of boomers oblivious to — or unfazed by — the impending Dunkin Donuts, er, Dunkin’ store coming their way.