TUPPER LAKE – Tina Merrihew has been making fresh and fried donuts for over 30 years. It’s a skill that had to work to perfect it. “It’s not as easy as it seems,” she says.
Merrihew is located behind the counter of the Washboard Donut Shoppe in Tupper Lake. In her red and black flannel shirt, she picks up a large stainless steel funnel, known as a hopper, which she fills with the donut mixture. To release the mixture, Merrihew pushes the handle down on the top, but not for long.
“It’s all under the pressure of the hopper,” Meriou says. “You can’t keep them, or otherwise they come out fat, so it’s kind of a quickie.”
With each little punch, the perfect amount of batter falls into the hot oil. Merrihew watches closely the buns bubble and fry. “So see how they all appeared open? And then just flip them over.”
Holding a pair of long wooden tongs, each heart reveals a beautiful golden round cake. After a few more minutes, I took it out to cool. You can order the cakes the way they are, old-fashioned, or with frosting that Merrihew makes herself.
“There are raspberries, blueberries, strawberries. The chocolate is kind of like a very thick chocolate brownie, so I mix in a little bit of vanilla with it.”
There’s also peanut butter, maple meat, and the latest addition – the Oreo cookie. The front door swings open and someone orders half a dozen donuts.
“I need two cinnamon sugars, two bacon, and two chocolates,” says Jane St. Louis, who’s from Tupper Lake and comes in every two months or so. “It depends if there is a birthday or not,” says St. Louis. Ask her if she’ll have cake for a party or special occasion. “No, that’s because it’s Friday, and we deserve the treatment,” she replied with a smile.
For some people, the Washboard Donut Shoppe is a place to indulge, and for others like Suzanne Orlando, it’s part of the routine. Orlando owns the Faust Motel in Tapper Lake. “We come every day because these are the best donuts in the entire north of the country and our customers love having something local and fresh every morning,” Orlando says.
This reliability is key to the success of this cake shop, says Ed Fletcher, father of Tina Meriot. I’ve owned the place for over 30 years. Fletcher says their customers can always count on them. “They always know we’re here. They can do their laundry, have a cake, have a sandwich or go to the store, seven days a week.”
Fletcher opened a gift shop here years ago. He also expanded the sink portion of the store and increased its cake-making capacity. That’s where the real profit is, Fletcher says, in bulk donut orders. “Like yesterday, a lady came and bought, I think the number was 10 dozen, which is just what we needed,” Fletcher says.
They also need foot traffic, people who come downtown for one thing and then decide to get donuts or something from the gift shop. This has been more difficult in recent years, as storefronts are empty or businesses do not stay open constantly. This was not always the case at Tupper Lake. Fletcher grew up here and remembers when downtown was much livelier.
“In the 1950s, you would come down here at night, and all the stores were open,” Fletcher says. “There were four or five restaurants here on Main Street,” Fletcher and others in Tupper Lake say they are seeing little revival. Younger people are moving in, trying to build a business here, and a new housing project is planned. Fletcher hopes for a railroad track that will connect Lake Tupper with Lake Placid.
Tina says they will be here through it all. She is confident that the Washboard Donut Shoppe offers something special. “I think the uniqueness of the people who see me makes them, being new, and making it just as they ask,” Meriou says. “It is unique.”
Ask her if she likes cake. “I do, but I limit myself, especially when it’s warm and wrapped in cinnamon, that’s the best.”
Of course, I had to check them out, so I ordered one, a freshly fried donut, still tender and warm, wrapped in cinnamon sugar. She’s right, it’s fun.