INDIANAPOLIS — Romeo Reyes opened The Donut Shop on Keystone Avenue in 1984 as a way to best do what we all try to do — take care of his family.
"He was not some restaurateur looking to establish a legacy; he just wanted to take care of his family, and this restaurant was simply a means to an end. In that context, he was very successful," Carlo Reyes, Romeo's son, told WRTV.
When Romeo first opened what is now known as The Donut Shop, located at 5527 North Keystone Avenue, it was a "Mister Donut" franchise restaurant. Pretty soon after, he decided he wanted to expand and broke free from the franchise and opened his bakery.
Whether he knew it at the time or not, Romeo created a community staple. A place where residents on the northeast side of Indy knew they could go for a quality breakfast served by a familiar face for 37 years.
"We had so many regulars ... some have been with us since the '80s which is crazy," Carlo said, "for our wait staff, it was like an extended family."
When Romeo died in late September of pancreatic cancer, the staff at The Donut Shop put a sign on the window letting the community know the bakery would be temporarily closed until further notice.
Carlo said he didn't want to permanently close at first, but he and his family eventually concluded that it was the right thing for them to do.
"The week my father was diagnosed, he told us to start looking for a buyer and sell the property. I strongly disagreed at the time, but after he passed I realized he was right," Carlo said. "As I stated earlier, this wasn't a legacy for him but a means to an end and it was simply time to move on."
Carlo says the most heartbreaking part of the closure is losing the relationships The Donut Shop had with regulars.
"Before officially announcing we were closing, people were actually going to my mom's house to see if everything was OK," Carlo said.
Carlo spent most of his time in the kitchen and was the restaurant and bakery manager. A role in the family business he says he won't necessarily miss.
"The restaurant industry is so unforgiving. We had limited hours, but we were a 24-hour operation. As soon as we closed, we had to convert our kitchen into a bakery so that we could make donuts at night," Carlo explained.
It was extremely hard work. Carlo explained that it was a family business, so most of the operations were handled by them, and it was a 7-days-a-week workload.
"The weekends were also insane," he added. "I delivered to churches Sunday morning — pre-COVID — so on Saturday nights we would have anywhere between 100-200 dozen donut orders that would have to be made and delivered."
Despite the heavy workload, the Reyes family still considered keeping The Donut Shop open at least through the end of the year. But, too many legality issues had to be dealt with to switch the business from a sole proprietorship to a corporation, especially during a time of grieving.
Carlo says the regulars at The Donut Shop helped keep them afloat.
"Covid was obviously very challenging, but we had such loyal customers that we didn't even need a PPP loan to stay open," Carlo said.
The Reyes family is actively working to sell the property on Keystone Avenue and looks forward to the next chapter.
"It's been a rough year but our family is in good spirits!" Carlo said.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.