How Shipley’s Do-Nuts turned Houston mom and pop into the National Series

Many national food conglomerates in the United States tout stories of humble beginnings. Shipley Do-Nuts, known here simply as Shipley’s, is a Houston success story that went from a mom-and-pop chain to a ubiquitous chain across the American South. Here’s how it started and how it goes.

As the saying goes: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” In the case of Lawrence Shipley, Sr., the woman was his wife Lily, whose family owns a Dallas donut shop where he sharpens sourdough fried dough.

The late Lawrence W. Shipley, Sr. is the founder of Shipley Do-Nuts.

James Nielsen / Family Photo

The business-minded Sr. Shipley taught him what he could trade in donuts, opened his own shop and sold them in Dallas – reportedly for $350. He moved to Houston, where he worked tirelessly to develop a recipe for a quality donut that would withstand the city’s sticky climate. The resulting treatment has retained its glaze perfectly, and will eventually become the catalyst for the nearly century-old donut empire.

Currently, Shipley's offers 60 types of nuts.

Currently, Shipley’s offers 60 types of nuts.

Do-Nuts Shipley

It wasn’t easy to satisfy the craving for a Shipley donut again when the brand was launched in 1936. Shipley Sr. opened Shipley Cream Glazed Do-Nuts opened as a wholesale bakery at 1417 Crockett Street, selling fresh, hand-cut donuts for $0.05 a dozen each. It wasn’t until the mid-1940s when the first retail store opened at the intersection of Michaux and Euclid Streets. Visitors will venture to one meal with a cup of coffee.

Lawrence and Lily Shipley purchased a building in North Main in 1952 to establish their headquarters, aiming to expand their operations and eventually begin franchising. By the 1960s, Shipley had sold 27 types of donuts and rolls.

How are you

Houstonians haven’t been without their fluffy breakfast pastries since then, although a lot has changed. The original bakery at 1417 Crockett is now a row of apartments. However, 3932 North Main down the street from the headquarters that opened in 1950, survives today as the oldest Shipley site still in operation.

Lawrence W. Shipley III, the former president of Shipley Do-Nuts, is photographed in front of stands of donut mixes inside the company's warehouse in Houston, Texas, in February 2006.

Lawrence W. Shipley III, the former president of Shipley Do-Nuts, is photographed in front of stands of donut mixes inside the company’s warehouse in Houston, Texas, in February 2006.

James Nielsen / For History

Until a year ago, Shipley Do-Nuts remained a family business, with Lawrence Shipley III at its helm. He has honored the family’s vision of expanding, expanding, expanding, and growing the company significantly since taking over the reins in 2005. In January 2021, Austin-based private equity firm Peak Rock Capital purchased Shipley Franchise Co. and Shipley Don-nut Flour & Supply Co. Focusing on further expansion.

Today, there are more than 330 locations in 10 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Flavors have more than doubled to 60 of the store-bought, frosted, frosted, and jelly-filled donuts and donuts—but the classic, hexagon-shaped, simple glazed donut remains a #1 seller by far, all these years later.

Shipley's plain polished walnut continues to be a bestseller.

Shipley’s plain polished walnut continues to be a bestseller.

Do-Nuts Shipley

While Shipley’s is also known for its kolaches, it wasn’t until 1995 that the company actually added an addition, with combinations like sausage, cheese, jalapeno, ham and cheese, complementing the menu with delicious breakfast options.

Cake cutting by hand at Shipley's oldest site at 3932 N. Main.

Cake cutting by hand at Shipley’s oldest site at 3932 N. Main.

Ben DeSoto / The Houston Chronicle

The no-frills donut operation shows no signs of slowing down, as multi-unit franchise agreements have already been signed this year, soon resulting in 70 new locations in Texas, Georgia and Maryland. The company is actively looking for new franchisees, as they aim to increase their presence in Colorado, Oklahoma and the Southeast.

With more than 350 new units in the pipeline and a new coffee program in operation, the 86-year-old company is expected to nearly double in size in the next five years.

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