Doughnut Dreams : The Filling Station
Story By Jo Ann Mathews
Photography By Jason Frizzelle
Alysa Watkins is a food entrepreneur. She started selling Get Sauced, her homemade bottled barbeque sauce, after it won first place at the N.C. State Fair in 2010. After catering her own wedding (to Grady Watkins on May 10, 2014), she and her husband decided that catering was an opportunity to pursue and established Yums the Word, LLC, concentrating on special events. Not satisfied on stopping there, the couple opened The Filling Station, a doughnuts and coffee bar in Shallotte, on June 16, 2015.
“I grew up going to the bakery every Saturday,” says Alysa, who grew up in Dunn, N.C. She moved to Ocean Isle Beach in 2006, and says, “There was no place to get a doughnut here.” Sitting at one of the tables inside The Filling Station, she spreads her arms wide to encompass the shop. “This has been a dream of mine, and I’m blessed [that] my husband is helping fulfill that dream.”
Two chalkboards display the menu. The Classic menu lists the traditional offerings —glazed doughnuts, chocolate-covered doughnuts and doughnuts holes, plus muffins, fritters and their custom-made Seanuts, fried, glazed croissants, some of which are filled.
It’s the Designer board that emphasizes the shop’s creativity. It lists more than 40 choices in alphabetical order starting with Almond Joy and ending with Zoo. For example, the Minions selection is decorated to look like the characters in the newly released movie. The Dreamsicle includes orange juice and orange zest. The Grasshopper is reminiscent of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. The most popular doughnut so far is Maple Bacon, but Alysa says they do their research and know this is one of the popular choices at other doughnut shops, too. Gluten-free doughnuts are among the selections.
Alysa makes “whatever I feel like” and allows the nine employees to help her experiment and develop combinations. Her aim is to provide tastes for the entire family. Apple Jacks, Cocoa Puffs and Froot Loops decorate doughnuts. Familiar names like Snickers, S’mores and Key Lime have a place on the menu, too.
The crew makes 11 dozen doughnuts in the first batch, so plenty are ready when the shop opens at 6:30 a.m. Typically a line forms throughout the day, and it’s not unusual to have up to a dozen people enthusiastically buying their favorites or checking out what’s new on the menu. Alysa doesn’t have the exact count on the number of doughnuts they make each day, but she says, “We’re still working on that. We’re trying to meet demand.”
Coffee is essential with doughnuts, and Alysa says that they buy their coffee from Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea in Columbus, Ohio. Company representatives came to Shallotte to train the staff in preparing and serving the coffee. “We put designs in it to make sure people enjoy it even before they taste it,” she says. Employee Dylan Clayton demonstrates by making rosette swirls in one cup.
The Watkins’ dream began to take shape when they met one of the Rourk brothers, who own the building at 209 Village Road in Shallotte. Grady and Alysa shared their vision of a bakery, and in January the couple, along with the Rourks, began remodeling, redesigning and arranging the former print shop. Grady had owned his own construction business, so he understood what was required. He suggested they name their business The Filling Station because in the 1940s the building had been a gas station or, in early twentieth-century parlance, a filling station.
Alysa praises her and Grady’s combined families with pitching in to help. Grady’s daughter, Melissa Watkins, painted murals of doughnuts and coffee cups on the walls. Alysa’s daughter, Jordan Clear, is a chef with the Coast Guard and offered suggestions. She’s on hand to bake nd decorate the doughnuts and wait on customers when she’s available.
Alysa also credits Freddie Williford, 83, and his son Freddie Junior, owners of Sherry’s Bakery in Dunn, for providing invaluable information about equipment and other basics needed for a successful bakery.
Alysa has experience in the business world, having received her bachelor’s degree from Campbell University with majors in marketing and economics and a minor in accounting. After working in the court system as director of day reporting and community service, she pursued a career as an energy consultant, a position she still holds. At the bakery, she is focused are proper training, cleanliness and presentation. The staff received training from a professional doughnut chef, and six of the nine employees are certified by ServSafe, a food and beverage training program administered by the National Restaurant Association.
“It’s important to me that my employees handle things properly,” Alysa says. “Everything in here is about presentation.”
Susan Williamson, Alysa’s mother, arrived one morning with three friends from Dunn.
“She’s loved cooking all her life,” Susan says. “I am thrilled she opened this shop because this is perfect for what she wants to do.” She laughs and adds, “I want to get back in the business and be a barista myself.”
Alysa turns 49 on August 26 and realizes how fortunate she is to be fulfilling her dream because she was near death in 2012. She explains that she was diagnosed with viral meningitis and minges encephalitis, was flown by helicopter to New Hanover Medical Center and was in a medically induced coma for several days. “It’s the only time I got a helicopter ride, and I don’t remember it,” she says.
She has simple recommendations for anyone wanting to open a business. “Do your homework up front and work with officials up front,” she says.
Alysa did all of this but adds another dimension. She greets all of the customers, wishes them well and adds a personal touch to the regulars — “We just made them,” she says to customer John Gober. “We knew you were coming.”
As she explains it, “I love good food, presentation and interaction with people.”
The only downside to this new endeavor is rising around 3 am. “It is an adjustment, but it is part of the process,” she says. “Everything here is homemade, so we need time to make it. We don’t have a machine that shoots out the doughnuts. We roll the dough out. We do it the old-fashioned way.”
And about all those calories? “The center of a doughnut is one hundred percent fat-free,” she says with good humor. “I wish people would come and try the doughnuts. I think we are filling a void at this end of the county.”