WELLFLEET — The owners of the Route 6 doughnut emporium called Dunkin’ (“Donuts” was dropped from the name in January 2019) say they will revive a plan to add a drive-through service window to the store, which twice failed to win approval from the zoning board of appeals, in 2010 and 2012.
The current owners of the Wellfleet store in the Cove Corner building are Neal Faulkner of Boston and Tony Placido of Rehoboth, who together own 28 Dunkin’ franchises in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including 12 on Cape Cod that they bought from George Zografos five years ago.
Faulkner said he believes the Covid-19 pandemic will change the way the drive-through idea is received by residents.
“It’s been absolutely seen in this environment that, if you have a drive-through, you’re providing a service to the community,” said Faulkner. “I don’t think drive-throughs were seen as a service 12 months ago, but now, especially for older people, you can have less interaction, you can get what you need, and you can get out of there.”
The Franchise Business Review reported in 2018 that Dunkin’ franchise owners can expect to bring in an extra $200,000 to $300,000 a year in sales by adding a drive-through window. The magazine said the average Dunkin’ franchise does about $1 million in annual sales, producing an average of $100,000 in profit for the owner.
“What we’ve seen through this pandemic is that the restaurants that are surviving are the ones with drive-throughs,” said Bruce MacGregor of Brewster, who owns the Cove Corner building. “It’s too bad, because we’re losing local, better food, and we’re stuck with unhealthy food. The ones that are open are the chains.”
Should Faulkner and Placido apply to add a drive-through window at the Wellfleet Dunkin’, they would be trying to succeed where Zografos failed. After his first attempt was denied by the ZBA in 2010, Zografos tried again in December 2012, claiming he had collected over 1,000 signatures from residents in support of the plan, according to the ZBA meeting minutes.
Zografos’s proposal, which included a detailed traffic analysis, was not well received. Comments from the public included “This is corporate America at its worst,” “[Ordering through a] speaker box is gutting the town’s personality,” and “[I don’t] want to see Wellfleet turn into a convenience community.” Zografos withdrew the second application, and there has been no attempt to reopen the bid since.
Faulkner thinks that Dunkin’ being a more established business in town will give him a better shot at getting approved this time.
“Some towns might have had an anti-drive-through stance, but I think most towns are re-examining that,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Is there a way to do a drive-through responsibly?’ Not for new businesses, but for places that have been there for years. I think a lot of towns will be examining it.”
Sharon Inger, who served on the ZBA when the Zografos application was considered and is now its chair, said the board’s concern was whether the change was appropriate for the neighborhood. “The traffic, the effect on the neighbors, that’s what we considered last time,” Inger said, “and it would be the same criteria this time.”
The coffee-and-doughnut chain faced opposition when it opened in 2010, and at the following spring’s annual town meeting voters approved a bylaw banning formula-based restaurants and businesses “to address the adverse impact (in terms of noise, litter, traffic, and aesthetically inappropriate development) that standardized fast food and formula restaurants would have on Wellfleet’s distinctive Cape Cod character….”
That bylaw was overturned by a state Land Court ruling five years ago in a dispute between the ZBA and Cumberland Farms. The town’s appeal of the Land Court decision was denied.
Faulkner sees his business as misunderstood. To him, Dunkin’ is just as much a part of the local small business community as any other shop.
“When people think of a chain, they think there’s a major corporation out there in control,” said Faulkner. “That’s not the way it is with Dunkin’. My partner and I own the Wellfleet store, and my general manager, who oversees everything, lives in the area. We’re a little mom-and-pop business. We just happen to have ‘Dunkin’ ’ on the building.”
Faulkner said he or his business partner visit the Wellfleet shop a few times a week in the summer and about once a week in the off season. His year-round staff and managers are all “locals who live in the area,” he said.
“Once we opened,” said Zografos, “it was really a nonissue. I think they are very glad we’re there, and I think we provide a service.” Of the doughnuts and other institutionally produced products sold there, Zografos added, “It’s all stuff that’s local, and people know it.”
Zografos now lives in Florida, but continues to advise Faulkner on issues such as employee retention and managing revenue in a highly seasonal economy. Landlord MacGregor said he has never actually met Faulkner; Zografos still rents the space where the Dunkin’ store is and sublets it to Faulkner and Placido.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 30, parent company Dunkin’ Brands announced that it was being bought by Inspire Brands, a multibillion-dollar holding company, for $11.3 billion, the biggest single purchase in the restaurant industry since 2014.