Daylight Donuts celebrates one year of new ownership in Ottawa

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

Ask any donut-lover in the Ottawa community and they'll tell you: Charity McCain of Daylight Donuts lives up to her name. The former Californian has lived in town for about fifteen years and has dedicated much of that time to her biggest passion: bringing smiles - and sweets - to the people of Ottawa. Not everyone knows that just a few months ago, she wasn't sure if she'd be able to do that anymore. But with the help of a few benevolent community members, she was able to bounce back and is now doing better than ever as the store celebrates a year in Ottawa.

Daylight Donuts in Ottawa, KS

As many long-time Ottawans know, Daylight Donuts has technically been in Ottawa much longer than a year. A man named Eldon Crenshaw first opened the store in 1984 and ultimately sold it. The store was sold a few more times, eventually coming into the hands of Mike Daniels. McCain worked for Daniels during the mid-2000s, in the very same store that would one day belong to her. In the fall of 2019, Daniels sold the property to Hope Anthem Church, which was planning to tear the building down and build a new church. Unfortunately (but perhaps fortunately for McCain), those plans never came to fruition, and the little building off of Main and 17th stayed. 

When McCain heard that Hope Anthem Church was selling the building, she was immediately interested. Already an entrepreneur with her own cleaning business, she had loved working at Daylight Donuts and was interested in running a franchise herself. However, the church was asking for nearly $3,000 a month in rent- something McCain couldn't afford on her own. So she enlisted the help of a business partner, a man whom she would rather not name but she says owns a multi-million dollar corporation and lives outside of Franklin County. "I wasn't too sure about it, and maybe I didn't spend enough time in prayer over it, because I did kind of jump into it," McCain says of the business venture. Once all the paperwork was signed, McCain and her partner were about $100,000 in debt- but they were diligent about paying it back and were able to halve that amount in about six months. Despite the finances seemingly going well, things were rocky from the beginning when it came to the partnership. "I was a work dog, is what I was," she said. "[Her partner] used me to his advantage and then he drained our bank accounts, and there was nothing I could do." McCain still isn't sure where that money went, but she knew she'd had enough, and everything came to a crashing halt one night in early 2021. "I got papers in the mail that the business was dissolved, and [her former partner] came in and kicked all of the employees out at 8 o clock at night and changed the locks on them." She says her partner wanted to take the money from the business and close up shop, but she just couldn't do that. "My passion and heart was here, involved in the business and running it, and I had a relationship with employees, and I was like, 'these are peoples' lives you're messing with,'" she said, "Not to mention it's been a staple of the community since '84," For her, it wasn't about the money - she knew she had to stay open, but she didn't know how she could afford to do it alone. So despite her best wishes, she was forced to close the store. 

While the store was closed, McCain went through her options. She was determined to reopen and had the staff and customers to do so, she just needed the funds. To complicate things even further, a clause in the disclosure she had signed with Hope Anthem Church stated that if the store was out of operation for an extended amount of time, the bank could accelerate her loan and make her pay its full sum immediately. Since she was unable to make the monthly payment for the seven weeks the building was closed, the church gave McCain 15 days to pay back the entire loan or they would reclaim ownership. McCain says she spoke with banks about taking out a loan, but due to a recent divorce, her credit was not where it needed to be to take out a loan high enough to pay the $80,000 back to the church. However, Mike Skidmore of Goppert State Service Bank told McCain he'd give her a loan, regardless of her credit. Another generous citizen, who wished to remain anonymous, also contacted McCain and told her he would give her a personal loan. McCain was blown away by his kindness: "I was like, 'why would you want to do this? and he basically said to me he had been in business before and went through a similar situation as I did, he had heard what happened, and he was like 'I'm tired of the ones that have not allowing the have-nots to be successful.'" And so, due to the goodwill of strangers, McCain was able to pay off her loan in 15 days and keep her store.

McCain eventually reopened, but it took a while for customers to start coming back. "When you're closed for seven weeks and people drive through and you're not here, it takes a little while to get it back around that you're open and they can come through," she explained. Now, about six months after the closure, however, business is right back to where it was. "On a daily basis, we see over 100 customers," McCain said, "on the weekends it's like 160 to 200." Besides handmade donuts, Daylight Donuts also offers breakfast burritos, fresh cinnamon rolls, and biscuits and gravy. They also prepare what she calls specialty donuts: hand-decorated glazed donuts for birthday parties, graduations, and other festivities. Photos of these creations are regularly posted on Daylight Donuts' Facebook page, along with photos of McCain's staff and her own family - her three children and stepdaughter have all worked at her store at one time or another and will step in and help every now and then if needed, even though she says her 18-year-old son despises donuts. McCain also sells her donuts wholesale to the local Amoco, Bert's gas station in Wellsville, and another gas station in Princeton. it's a great way to get people from out of town hooked on her donuts, she says. 

Fresh donuts from Daylight Donuts

Despite her incredible comeback story and her business's financial success, the thing McCain is most proud of is her Donuts for Do-Gooders program. While she was closed for seven weeks, local realtor Betty Birzer contacted her and asked if they could partner up and do something for the community. The result was Donuts for Do-Gooders: every week, Birzer purchases three dozen donuts, and McCain donates an additional two dozen. Then on each Thursday, two boxes are given to a business or individual nominated for the work they do in the community. New nominations are made every day, and each winner is randomly selected. Birzer and McCain also choose one business a week to receive the additional three dozen donuts - lately, it's been a lot of healthcare workers, in appreciation of all they've done during the pandemic. It's the least they can do, McCain says, and the amount of happiness it brings people makes everything worthwhile: "It's bringing them joy to know that someone looks at them as a hero. You never know what that person is going through. That person doesn't look at themself as a hero, and they might struggle with getting up and going to work every day," She said. McCain and Birzer's good deeds have even caught the attention of Rep. Jake LaTurner, who sent both women personal letters thanking them for spreading joy in the community. And the goodwill doesn't stop there: at the end of each day, McCain gives away her unsold donuts to local businesses as well as Hope House, a local food bank

With such a wild year in the books, it's easy to assume McCain is ready to slow down and relax. However, she says that couldn't be further from the truth: she expects to relocate into a larger building within the next two years and hopes to open a second Ottawa location somewhere in that time frame. "I would like to have a south and a northside store, and the franchise won't allow anybody else within a 25-mile radius to open a franchise, so I'd be the only one in Ottawa that can do it," McCain said. She also expressed interest in expanding her donut empire beyond that 25-mile radius; she has a few towns in mind, but nothing is set in stone as of yet. For now, McCain and her staff are busy focusing on upcoming events - like the launch of her pumpkin spice donuts on September 22 and Ottawa University's biannual Donut Run in October - and of course, the very thing she set out to do over a year ago: making the people of Ottawa happy. "I have people thank me every day for being here," she said. After everything she's been through, she's so glad to be here too - not just for her, but for her customers. "There are elderly people here, and they want their Old Fashioned, or their blueberry, or their maple cake donut, and they've been getting it here since 1984. They've been driving through since 84, my goodness, I wouldn't want that to end."