On Oct. 1, 2003, a local headline could've read: "Pink Donut Shop Saved by Paperboys!" The story would declare brothers and former paperboys Al and Ken Smith deliverers of their hometown donut shop, knights-errant of the little shop around the corner. But rather than two scrawny boys posing on Schwinns, the photo would show two grown men with healthy bellies and wide smiles.
The Smith brothers saved The Better-Maid Donut Company after they heard their boyhood donut shop was up for sale. Fearing the 60-year-old business might close, the pair bought "Pink Donut Shop" on Steuben Street in Crafton Heights.
"It's the place where a lot of kids in the neighborhood got their first donut," says Ken Smith. "We wanted to try to keep it going." It's a goal that's especially poignant this week, as another longtime local bakery, Jenny Lee, closes its doors.
Smith talks about Better-Maid as if it was his duty to preserve part of the neighborhood's legacy, no matter the personal cost. "Days are nights and nights are days," laughs Smith. "It's hard sometimes, but it's worth it."
Located just up the hill from West End's burgeoning business and arts district, the Better-Maid building looks like a mid-century house. The exterior's faded pink paint recalls a beach cottage paling under the sun.
Inside, cake and glazed donuts wink from behind a tall display case. Better-Maid features frosted and cream-filled donuts (many sprinkled with jimmies), apple fritters, cinnamon rolls and, a fan favorite, donut holes. Donuts are a reasonable 60 cents; filled donuts are 85 to 95 cents. The shop also offers La Prima coffee and various cold drinks. Better-Maid opens at 6 a.m. and closes when they run out of baked goods.
Behind the counter rests the hallmark of a traditional neighborhood donut shop – the ball-of-string contraption. At Better-Maid, all take-away boxes are hand-tied for your carrying convenience.
"We do everything by hand," Smith says. "You won't find any fancy machines in the back."
Spoken like a true paperboy.
Better-Maid Donut Company
1178 Steuben St., Crafton Heights