Will Lowcountry coffee junkies finally get their Dunkin' Donuts fix?

March 13, 2009 

Dunkin' Donuts plans to fill in a doughnut hole within its Southeastern markets by expanding to Beaufort County.

A franchisee from Florida has signed a development agreement with the coffee and baked goods chain to bring five locations to the Hilton Head Island, Beaufort and Bluffton area.

Plans call for one location to open this year. The rest will follow within the next four years. The locations could come in a variety of forms, including free-standing stores or sites within shopping centers and convenience stores, company officials said.

Exact locations haven't been determined.

The company, based in Canton, Mass., has about 6,500 domestic locations, most of which are in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The company also has several hundred locations in Florida.

That's left some pockets of uncharted territory in between, where the companywants to grow, said Grant Benson, vice president of franchise sales for Dunkin' Brands, the corporate parent of Dunkin' Donuts.

"It's that middle swath of the Eastern seaboard that we're really looking to fill in," Benson said

Several developers previously asked about opening one or two Dunkin' Donuts in the area, but the company declined because it prefers to enter a market in greater numbers to build a network of restaurants, Benson said.

"There's a different likelihood of overall success for the brand when you've got that kind of commitment," he said.

Company officials believe they've found the right person for the job in Chi Yung Wang, who has operated an Auntie Anne's pretzel store in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and several athletic footwear stores in the Northeast.

Dunkin' Donuts' agreement with Wang will help the company complete its coverage of the region. It already has locations in Greenville, Charleston and Atlanta, and it's looking for new franchisees to purchase a minimum of five more units in the Savannah-area market.

Wang's locations will establish Dunkin' Donuts' presence in a community with appealing demographics, Benson said.

Many Beaufort County residents have moved to the area from places that have Dunkin' Donuts, Benson said.

"It's really a natural for us," he said. "The brand should play very, very well there."

Benson realizes the Southeast is a traditional stronghold of rival Krispy Kreme,based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"When consumers give us a chance, they'll make a decision," Benson said. "We're very comfortable head-to-head with Krispy Kreme."

That's welcome news to Robbie Robertson, who lives in Shell Point in northern Beaufort County.

When it comes to the "never-ending battle" between Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, Robertson is "a staunch Dunkin' Donuts fan."

He buys the company's coffee from the commissary at the nearby Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and his daughter brings him doughnuts when she visits from Charleston.

"Whenever she comes down, she brings a dozen because we can't get 'em here," Robertson said. "Bring 'em on."

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