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Donuts are Sweet – Words are Sweeter

By Chuck Cusumano

A World Comprised of Words: A Story of Uncomplicated Communication

Journalists write words that inform us.

Authors write words that entertain, inspire, or educate us. Teachers and professors alike write words that help us on our educational journeys. Speechwriters and marketers write words that persuade us. Loved ones write words in an attempt to convey the feelings they foster for us—feelings that often words cannot truly do justice. And, of course, poets write words that many of us can’t—the words that live deep within our souls, the words that so many of us struggle to grapple with, understand, and communicate.

The written word might not be the main source of communication for all of us—in fact, the spoken word, in addition to our observations of body language and facial expressions, often act as our primary form of communication.

This topic is so vast that we have spent the last year writing many blogs on topics dealing exclusively with communication and the intricacies and complexities that surround it. (Read more here: Listen Up!; Think Before You Speak; 2 ears:1 mouth; Language & Definitions)

But sometimes, communication is not as complicated as we make it.

Sometimes, just a few, simple words—written or said with sincerity and passion—can be truly impactful.

Recently, I was reminded of this, and like most lessons, this one came from one of the most unlikely places—a doughnut shop.

Before I dive into the sweet part of this story, I just want to preface this by saying that I am not a sweet-tooth type of person—no way! Give me salty flavors every time! If it were entirely up to me, I would take a warm, soft pretzel sprinkled with salt every day of the week. Unless, of course, you are offering up dark chocolate with the perfect dash of sea salt—only then can I totally see where you sweet-lovers are coming from.

Naturally, I digress (as we all do when our favorite snacks are the topic of conversation). So, let us talk sweetness—in more ways than one.

A Delicious Anecdote: The Tale of the Sweetest Donuts

We will start the story with my fascination with donuts (or doughnuts, as the purists insist on using). No, I cannot exactly explain it as much as I wish I could—maybe, like most things, it has something to do with my upbringing.

One of the many jobs my mother had when I was young was working at a coffee and donut shop. Okay, maybe it was not exactly a coffee and donut shop—more like a long food counter with lots of stools, a spot where most working men would stop to pick up breakfast and a cup of ‘joe’ before their shifts at 5 AM.

Often, the nightshift guys, just getting off from the factory, would stop in at my mom’s job to have a black cup of coffee or grab a dozen for their kids before they headed off to school that morning. The morning shifters were really just looking for a steaming cup of coffee and a dunker to start their day off right. (Who can blame them?). The workers who were in the management or sales industries would typically stop in to pick up a box or two of donuts to bring into their office or a client’s office (a clever attempt to finagle their way past the receptionists and assistants, most likely).

So, where do I fit into this mix?

I was the lucky one—I got the old donuts that did not sell. They made for some of the best breakfasts I can remember. Hey—do not judge. It was the 1970s—donuts were good for you back then.

Let us fast forward to today.

Now, we have plenty of donut options. Sure, we have some big-name joints that are pretty good—Dunkin' and Krispy Kreme deserve their dues—but the biggest donut trend for the last several years has been focused squarely on the boutique donut shops. Right?

Millennials, back me up—I know you know what I am talking about!

I have eaten some exceptional donuts in my time. The Sugar Shack in Richmond, Virginia definitely has a great donut. I have had a large, cold glass of milk with a delicious donut from Donut Crazy at the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. I have even taken the trek to Do-Rite Donuts in Chicago, Illinois, just because they were on a few lists as some of the best donuts ever.

I have (proudly) eaten at some of the most famous donut shops in America and I am always on the lookout for something special.

But truthfully, it is not necessarily about the donut—rather, for me, it is more about the store and the experience. Sure, bonus points absolutely go to the shop if the donut is fantastic, but I suspect that my hunt for the perfect donut is more about a desire to relive some of my sweet memories as a child. Or, maybe it is just because I love to see how someone puts their heart and soul into creating a world-class (and yummy) product.

There is no denying it—I have done my fair share of “oh, would you look at that—the hot light is on. Maybe we should stop?” I have even done that at 2 AM on Ponce in Atlanta. (If that reference does not resonate with you, click here).

Speaking of Atlanta—where I have lived the past 20 years—this city is filled with delicious donuts where I have spent way too much money over the years. From the famous Da Vinci’s Donuts to Sublime Doughnuts to Donut Dollies in Buckhead (potentially where I have spent the most money), there are plenty of amazing options.

But this story is not about how tasty donuts are (though, we could probably talk at length about that). This one is about a specific, little donut shop in Georgia where something special happened.

This is a place where sweetness was about more than just a sugary treat—a place where donuts and words collided in the sweetest way of all.

Enter the Donut Protagonist: Nedza’s

In the fun, college town of Athens, Georgia, is an adorable shop called Nedza’s.

I owe the introduction to my son, who showed us this sweet space at nearly 9 o’clock at night on a Tuesday—where, by the way, the line was absolutely out the door. Literally.

At first, I thought people were being cautious and doing their part to align with social distancing rules, but as we approached, I could see that there was a serious bottleneck at the cashier’s register.

My immediate thought was that the young woman running the counter either was struggling to understand all the masked customers or she was new and having a hard time ringing everyone up. What else could be the explanation for such a long wait? It could not take that long to ring up an order and pay, right?

This shop was super famous for its bubble waffle cones for their ice cream. I figured that if everyone else thought it was worth the wait, we should probably hold our place in line.

Nedza’s is an ice cream shop that features coffee, donuts, and a few special treats—something they refer to as upgraded comfort food.

Initially, I was in it for the coffee, but once I saw the donut creations, I absolutely had to know how delicious they were.

As we moved along in the line, I began noticing most of the customers who had moved to the side of the line awaiting their orders had all started laughing, smiling, and joking around. They all looked to be in some kind of jubilant activity together.

Maybe they all know each other, I thought. It is a college town, after all. Mostly everyone in line was college-aged, so it certainly would make sense.

I soon found out just how wrong I was.

When we made it to the front and placed our order, our cashier (Ava), asked our names and wrote them down. The whole process took just a few seconds—she would get our orders, take our names, and ask the normal questions ("Are you dining in or taking out?," etc.). She would chat with you for a moment and then move on.

And that is when the magic happened.

Ava was, in fact, the cashier—but she was more than that. While she took our orders and rung up our food, she would also observe—making customers laugh, offering a smile (under her mask, of course!), and then taking note of each person.

When you received your order, you were surprised with a handwritten note that stated something special, encouraging, or unique about you.

Everyone was waiting to see what Ava would write about them on their treats—that was why the line was so long, that was why there was so much laughter, and that was why the coffee, ice cream, and donuts tasted so amazing!

Ava had given all of us an enormous dose of sweetness—but not with her treats! Her insightful, kind notes pushed everything over the edge.

Of course, the donuts were as good as anything I have eaten elsewhere, but the spirit of Ava—and the friendliness of the staff—put this shop way above all the others!

Taking a Sweet Lesson From Ava

In today’s world, it is so important to be like Ava.

Take the time to notice someone—what is special, unique, or beautiful about them. Then, tell them about it.

Think about it this way.

An email is fine to say thank you in a business setting. A kind word spoken to someone is an amazing gift for that moment. Sending a hand-written note really puts the exclamation mark on your thoughts and shows how much you care.

But when you make the effort to notice someone—what they mean to you or how unique they are—and then you write that down in a way that encourages and inspires them to simply continue being who they are, it becomes a one-of-a-kind gift that no amount of money could purchase.

Often, it is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

So, take the time to notice someone. Take the time to write down what is special about them to you.

Make the effort to send a card or a note each month to those you value.

For most of the world, receiving that communication kindness is better than eating a donut or two. Not only will it cost less, but it will be a far better sweet treat for you and for them.

Allow me to put it this way—the hot light should always be on when it comes to noticing and encouraging others. How sweet would that be?

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