"Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?" - Homer Simpson
It's not unusual to see visitors at 5456 International Parkway standing in the parking lot with their noses pointed toward the sky like bloodhounds testing the air.
But the kind of prey they are scenting is round, glazed or frosted, perhaps sprinkled, maybe sugared or powdered - it's doughnuts.
Springfield's own Mel-O-Cream Donuts turns out tasty confections on a grand scale. They taste grand, and they crank them out at the rate of 1,400 dozen in an hour - three shifts, Sunday night through Friday. Since 1932 the city has enjoyed Mel-O-Cream doughnuts.
The doughnuts are made in batches of 600 pounds of dough. Several bowls are mixing dough at one time to keep things moving. The dough goes through a series of dough feeders to thin it to the right consistency.
When the dough is just right, cutters can come down and stamp rings that will eventually become doughnuts.
The doughnut holes are processed back into the next batch of dough. They are actually smaller than the doughnut holes that are sold in stores, so holes are made in a separate process.
The soon-to-be doughnuts travel merrily along on conveyor belts that space the doughnuts out, and then they go into an enormous proofing box.
Spaced out on little shelves, the 4,800 doughnuts travel up and down in the proofing box for 45 minutes.
"We use a combination of steam and electric to keep the temperature at about 108 degrees," said Kelly Grant, chairman of the board of Mel-O-Cream. Grant's father started the company, and Grant's first promotion was from doughnut maker to president.
The steam and electric heat in the proofing box are strictly regulated by computers. "We want them to be warm and rise, but not get a crust on them because they would become tough."
The pliant dough rings move out of the proofing box onto another conveyor, which drops them ever so gently into a long stainless-steel box of heated oil.
"A computer goes through a complicated set of calculations to keep the temperature just right no matter how many doughnuts are in or how much their temperature varies to keep adjusting the temperature of the oil so it stays just right. They are cooked on one side and then flipped to fry the second side," said Mel-O-Cream President David Waltrip.
At the factory on International Parkway, the doughnuts do a lot of up-and-down traveling. If they weren't stacked on shelves in a proofing box or the cooling area, there wouldn't be enough room for the next batch.
Up to three batches of doughnuts, 1,800 pounds of delectable fried pastries, can be cooled at one time in a giant stainless steel mesh-sided container that slowly revolves to move air around the doughnuts to cool them to room temperature. That takes about 45 minutes, according to Waltrip.
Depending on what kind of doughnut is being made, they either head down to be punched and filled with jelly - done by hand - or they are off to the freezer. At 25 degrees below zero, it takes 30 to 35 minutes to super-cool a doughnut into a chunk that could hammer nails if needed.
FYI - jelly doughnuts take about 10 more minutes to freeze than yeasty raised doughnuts.
Then it's on the road again, another conveyor belt whips the rock-hard doughnuts into a box, seals it, puts a label on it and moves it to the warehouse. A robot stacks it on a pallet, shrink-wraps it and moves it to the chilly warehouse. Here, parka-clad employees use forklifts to move the pallets into semis to truck the doughnuts to stores in surrounding states.
The semis aren't loaded until the temperature of the interiors of the trailers matchs the temperature of the frozen doughnuts, Waltrip said.
Four doughnuts from each of the batches, be they glazed or lime flavored, are stored for six months at the plant. Two are checked for color and weight and two are stored, per government regulations, in case there are ever questions about a specific doughnut batch.
Mel-O-Cream to premiere the doughnut hole bar
Mel-O-Cream will soon be offering a new option to retail outlets - a larger variety of doughnut holes in setups similar to salad bars where customers can pick the flavors they want.
Mel-O-Cream president David Waltrip said not only are the holes cute, but since they are holes, they actually have no calories.
Seriously, the doughnut hole bars offer a wide variety of tastes designed to appeal to a wide variety of customers in bite-sized packages, Waltrip added.
Flavors include: vanilla, spiced apple, chocolate fudge brownie, blueberry, cherry, orange, pumpkin, lemon, butter pecan, strawberry yogurt, lime, raspberry, peach, snickerdoodle and gingerbread.
Story published Friday, July 3, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 4 )