When it comes to assuming ownership of a well-recognized business with a pre-existing customer base, the brave join a franchise and are fortunate to have a blue-print as they navigate their way through business ownership. The braver assume control of a non-franchised small business and face one of the toughest battles of them all: maintaining the legacy of the brand and its products while launching their own strategy and operations. This is the balancing act Nicola’s Donut’s Owners (and sisters) Rachel Waatti and Michele Kaw are mastering.
The two assumed ownership of the 30-year old Tampa staple in 2011. Joe and Kathy Nicola had operated its original location on Busch Boulevard and were well-known for their donuts, baked fresh daily using no preservatives and no trans fats. A second owner maintained the brand until 2011.
Originally from the Philippines, Kaw and Waatti knew they wanted to establish a business in Florida. When they saw that Nicola’s Donuts was for sale they decided to assume ownership of the available Nicola’s Donuts rather than to start a new company.
“We knew that establishing a fan base was half the battle and Nicola’s already had a great reputation,” said Kaw. “We also knew we wanted our bakery to offer a particular kind of cupcake, inspired by the gourmet cupcakes available in other major US cities, as well as other pastries but feared what might happen if we were to stray too far from the Nicola’s Tampa knew and loved.”
The results? Kaw and Waatti have upheld the original donut recipes and baking methods, but also now offer a larger variety of donuts (including new weekly specials) and have added 30 cupcakes as well as other pastries to the menu. They continue to deliver products to be sold at local gas stations and hospitals throughout Tampa Bay, a service the second owner initiated.
“It was important for us to maintain Nicola’s reputation for great donuts, but also to follow through with our own plans,” added Waatti.
As it goes with all small businesses, it has not all been smooth sailing. The response to a recent move from a second location at 14390 North Dale Mabry Highway to a new location inside the Yogurt Spot at 15006 North Dale Mabry Highway has been varied.
“Like all changes, the move has elicited both positive and negative feedback from our customers,” said Kaw. “A few customers had trouble finding us and the lower in-store temperatures were affecting the quality our products. But we are learning and adapting as best we can and are grateful that the majority of our customers are sticking with us as the Nicola’s brand evolves.”