The Untold Truth Of Shipley Do-Nuts

In a popular old Dunkin' TV commercial, Fred the baker sets his alarm for 3:30 a.m., to wake up for his job at Dunkin' Donuts (as the chain was called at the time). "Time to make the doughnuts," he mutters as he shuffles through his morning routine (via YouTube). The ad was meant to show how dedicated Dunkin' was to providing customers fresh doughnuts every morning.

It turns out Fred had it pretty easy. What if you worked for a doughnut chain whose mission was to serve doughnuts hot, no matter what time of the day or night customers showed up? Then you'd work for Shipley Do-Nuts. A quote the Shipley website attributes to founder Lawrence Shipley Sr. still applies today: "When they bite into that hot doughnut, it will bring them back every time."

When Shipley founded his business in Houston in 1936, he sold a dozen glazed doughnuts for a nickel. Today, Shipley Do-Nuts has more than 300 locations in nine states, with more to come (via Restaurant Business). Oh, and those dozen Shipley Classic Glazed now cost $9.19, per the company website.

Shipley is a source of pride for Houstonians, and the company gives back to the community through its charities. But it has also been under a cloud of scandal. Several Shipley employees filed lawsuits, accusing their bosses of violence, sexual harassment, and racism (via Houston Chronicle). These claims have done little to dent Shipley's popularity, however. Here's the untold truth of Shipley Do-Nuts.

The Shipley Do-Nuts menu features variety and a local savory treat: kolaches

Serving doughnuts fresh and hot, at some locations 24 hours a day (via the Shipley website), sounds like a winning business model all by itself. Even so, Shipley's menu has other things going for it. For one, Shipley offers variety with more than 60 types of doughnuts. Some of these are based on the original yeast recipe, while others are a heavier, more dunkable cake-type doughnut. Shipley doughnuts come glazed, iced, sprinkled, or filled, and the doughnut holes actually come from the middle of the doughnuts they make on-site, according to the website for a Shipley Do-Nuts franchise in College Station and Bryan, Texas.

Shipley offers other sweet treats, too: apple fritters, bear claws, cinnamon rolls, and eclairs filled with Bavarian custard and topped with chocolate. And for a taste of something you might have trouble finding outside of Houston, try a savory breakfast item called a kolache – a sausage-filled pastry of Czech origin that you might call a pig in a blanket (via Wide Open Eats). Houston Press declared that there's no better breakfast food in Houston than Shipley's boudin kolache – a pastry with spicy cajun pork filling. In a different article, Houston Press ranked the boudin kolache all the way up at number three on its list of 100 favorite Houston dishes.

Lizzo and Kylie Jenner showed Shipley Do-Nuts some love

Shipley Do-Nuts is a Houston institution, and local celebrities demonstrate their hometown pride by giving Shipley a shout-out. Grammy-winning singer Lizzo showed the doughnut chain some love in 2019 when she posted a video on Twitter that shows her dancing in front of a Shipley shop in the Houston neighborhood where she grew up.

Another famous Houston recording artist, rapper Travis Scott, apparently introduced his even more famous girlfriend at the time to Shipley Do-Nuts. In 2018, Kylie Jenner posted a photo for her enormous Instagram following that showed a bag of Shipley Do-Nuts in her lap, with the location tagged as "Houston, Texas" (via ABC13).

Football legend Earl Campbell, who played for the Houston Oilers in the 1970s and 1980s (via Pro Football Hall of Fame), has had much more than a social-media moment with Shipley Do-Nuts. After football, Campbell started Earl Campbell Meat Products, which supplies sausages for Shipley's kolaches, according to a Shipley franchisee's website. At a Shipley in Austin, Texas, where Campbell played college football, the menu includes the Big Earl Campbell Sausage with Cheese Kolache.

Amazingly, all of Shipley Do-Nuts' clout with celebrities couldn't buy it recognition as the best doughnut shop in Houston – at least not according to PaperCity readers in 2018. That honor went to River Oaks Donuts, which beat out Shipley and four other finalists by a large margin. In fact, Shipley was relegated to the pile of also-rans that attracted less than 15 percent of the vote.

Shipley Do-Nuts gives back to the community

Locals can debate whether Shipley has the best doughnuts in Houston. One thing's for certain: Shipley has sold a lot of doughnuts in Houston, and in return, the company has given back to the community through the causes it supports. Shipley has hosted the annual Do-Nuts Dash since 2015, a two-mile run/walk that supports Kids' Meals Houston, a nonprofit that delivers meals to food-insecure preschoolers. The Dash has raised more than $150,000 so far.

Shipley recognizes National Doughnut Day in June by giving away a free plain glazed doughnut with every purchase. Nothing too special about that – Krispy Kreme and other doughnut outlets offer free doughnuts around this particular confectionary holiday (via USA Today). But Shipley then turns around and donates a portion of its proceeds from this very busy day to the Salvation Army (via PR Newswire). The charitable organization started National Doughnut Day to honor its members who handed out baked goods to soldiers on the front lines in France during World War I, according to a Shipley Do-Nuts blog.

Giving not just to Kids' Meals Houston and the Salvation Army, but to a wide range of organizations, is baked into the Shipley way of doing things. The chain has a webpage where schools, churches, and other groups can apply to Shipley for help.

Shipley Do-Nuts kept getting hit with employee lawsuits

Despite all the love from celebrities and the displays of corporate generosity, Shipley's reputation isn't unblemished. Legal complaints filed against the company gave Shipley so much bad publicity that the editorial board at the Houston Chronicle was moved to urge the company to clean up its act. Five major legal actions directed at Shipley over the past 15 years accused the company of everything from unpaid overtime to unlawful detention and physical attacks (via Houston Chronicle).

Female employees in 2018 accused owner Lawrence Shipley III of groping them and using racial slurs against them (via Houston Chronicle). Employees filing a lawsuit in 2006 made similar claims of groping and racial slurs, among other grievances. Some employees reported being kicked, punched, and threatened with guns. The accusations came from Hispanic employees at Shipley, who said managers simply threw away job applications from Black people.

Not all of the accusations were proven in court, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) did rule against Shipley or its franchisees at least twice. Shipley had to give back pay to an employee whom they fired after he had filed a complaint against management. In a second case, a franchisee had to pay $45,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit after forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid leave.

In its editorial, the Houston Chronicle warned Shipley that all this scandal might convince Houstonians to get their doughnuts from one of those other fine shops in town.

After 85 years, the family owners sold Shipley Do-Nuts

If Lawrence Shipley III was abusing his employees, as various lawsuits claimed (via Houston Chronicle), workers can rest easier today. Shipley is no longer the boss at Shipley Do-Nuts. In fact, in January 2021 the family sold the business – most of it, anyway – to Peak Rock Capital, an Austin, Texas investment firm (via Restaurant Business). This was no hostile takeover, either. Shipley said the family had conducted an "exhaustive search" to find the "ideal" candidate to move the business forward. In his parting statement, Shipley said, "My grandfather, father and I have dedicated our lives to serving Shipley Do-Nuts, our franchisees and our guests." (What, no kind words for the employees?)

Peak Rock intends to keep doing what the Shipley family had been doing for the previous 85 years: growing the business. "We look forward to partnering with the company's management team to invest behind their growth plan," Peak Rock said (via Houstonia). Since the business changed hands, Shipley has continued to announce new store openings across the southern U.S. (via Instagram).

Scandals and stern warnings from newspapers aside, Peak Rock bought Shipley at a good time. The business that built itself on the concept of serving fresh, hot doughnuts around the clock has grown its sales an average of 2.7 percent over the past five years. Clearly, grandfather Shipley was onto something.