Yes, this is a real thing that exists and it's lovely.
It's not a literal trail—you won't find doughnuts littering roadways or walking paths—but it's a trail that takes you from one doughnut shop to the next, until you have reached 12 local shops and you never want to see another doughnut again—until you're ready for round two.
Welcome to the Ohio Donut Trail in Butler County, which has more doughnut shops per capita than almost anywhere else in the country. Three years ago, the Butler County Visitors Bureau decided to celebrate this unique feat by creating the trail, and since they put it on the map, more than 9,000 people from 44 states and nine countries have completed it.
Here's how it works: you pick up a passport at any of the shops along the trail or from the visitor's bureau, then you make your way from shop to shop, earning one stamp for each location you visit. You must reach 11 of the 12 to complete the passport. When your book is full, you can send or bring it to the bureau and get a T-shirt in return. The T-shirt designs change each year, so if you’re apt to take the journey more than once, you could earn quite the collection.
"When we started the trail [in 2016], I wasn't sure if anyone would actually do it," Kocher admits. But 24 hours after it launched, a brother-and-sister duo showed up on the trail and completed their passports. They'd come from Dayton, Ohio, and Indiana, respectively, to participate.
It's those stories, Kocher says, that makes the doughnut trail so special. "We didn't exactly know that we were tapping into something the world needed," she laughs. "But it's more than just doughnuts. It's a vehicle for connection. It's the stories we hear—who did the trail and who they did it with, and why they did it—that makes the trail really rewarding." What's more, between lodging, dining, gas and, of course, doughnuts, the trail raked in about $1 million in 2016 and 2017 for the county. For the mom-and-pop doughnut shops, it's getting locals and tourists to visit.
Ready to do the Ohio Donut Trail yourself? Here's every stop you can make and what you'll want to order.
Holtman’s Donuts is more than a family business—it’s a family legacy, says co-owner Katie Plazarin, whose husband, Danny, and in-laws, Chuck and Toni, also have a hand in the shop. “My husband’s grandfather started the business in 1960,” Katie Plazarin says, “and it was his dream [for us] to carry on his legacy and grow the family business.” Their West Chester shop features an open bakery, so you can see doughnuts being freshly made. “It’s important to us to show our customers that we craft from scratch, and kids enjoy watching our bakers hand cut, dip, and decorate the doughnuts,” she says.
Try: Maple bacon donut ($2). As Katie Plazarin explains, with Cincinnati—known as Porkopolis thanks to its pig industy—“it’s only fitting we carry a bacon-topped doughnut," glazed with made-from-scratch maple icing and topped with bacon crumbles. “It’s a perfect combination of sweet and salty,” she says.
9558 Civic Centre Blvd., West Chester; 513-755-1261
This retro black-and-white shop may look like it harkens back to older years, but owner Diana Ramsey opened it in 2015, which makes it fresh—just like its doughnuts. “We have a wide selection of doughnuts, pastries, cookies, brownies, and more,” Ramsey boasts. “Our selection allows families the ability to meet everyone's tastes and desires.” Plus, Kelly’s Bakery’s customer service is known to be top-notch, according to Ramsey. “Our customers are more than customers—they are like family,” she says.
Try: Apple fritter doughnut ($1.75). The seven-inch-wide doughnut features cinnamon and diced apples fried into a crispy outer coating. “We have a customer who buys a dozen at a time,” Ramsey says.
1335 Main St., Hamilton; 513-285-4040
After retiring from a 30-year-long career in law enforcement, Sherry Richardson wanted to do something different. “Doughnuts make people happy,” the owner of Mimi’s Donuts & Bakery says simply, and so, she found her second calling. (But she also didn’t forget her beginnings. You’ll notice that the shop’s phone number ends in 9-1-1. And the shop’s tagline? “After 30 years in law enforcement, Mimi knows donuts.”) Inside the Hamilton shop, warm wood and even barn doors give it what Richardson describes as a “homey” feel.
Try: Reese’s cup donut (95 cents). “It’s a filled doughnut with peanut butter flavored filling, chocolate icing, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups sprinkled on top,” Richardson describes. “It’s delicious.”
2267 Millville Ave., Hamilton; 513-280-1911
You truly can’t miss Martins Donut Shop—and not just because of their yummy doughnuts. You won’t miss it because its façade is painted in hot pink. "Our doughnut shop is in a very old building that once was a service station,” says owner Tim Mason. “Although it is a work in progress, we painted the building a couple of years ago. It was a faded out white and we painted the building pink. It definitely has attracted a lot of attention.” The shop very often opens earlier than 4 a.m. thanks to customers who come that early to get them—and stays open late because “we have lots of customers that like coming in through the night to get their doughnut craving,” Mason says.
Try: Glazed twists ($1.) Though they’re more stick than doughnut, they’re still the shop’s “biggest selling doughnut since the beginning,” says Mason of the twists, which are simply glazed doughnuts rolled into twists. “People love to dunk them in their coffee or milk because the shape makes it so easy to do,” Mason explains.
4 W. State St., Trenton; 513-988-0883
Central Pastry Shop was founded in 1949. “We have three generations coming to our shop and customers tell us stories about their great-grandparents ordering Central Pastry Shop goodies for family and friends,” says owner John Slamka. Slamka and his wife, Vera, aren’t part of the original family that opened the shop; they bought it in 1983 ago because—as customers themselves—they had loved the shop so much. Central Pastry Shop honors the donut trail with a large mural of the trail painted on its wall. “People love to visit for the friendly atmosphere and cozy-sweet environment,” says Vera Slamka. “And people love to stay for the camaraderie and friendships they develop right here, whether they are driving through town or have lived here all their lives.”
Try: Cinnamon square donut ($1.50). A yeast doughnut, it’s glazed all over and topped with housemade cinnamon crumbles and powdered sugar. “It melts in your mouth and is absolutely delectable,” Vera Slamka says.
1518 Central Avenue, Middletown; 513-423-4431
At the Donut House, “quality is everything to us and customer satisfaction is a must,” says owner Yeng Kim Chang. “As local residents of West Chester, we want to make everyone feel invited and welcomed as they walk through our doors.” They do that, she says, by making fresh, hand-cut doughnuts and filled doughnuts made to order in front of customers’ eyes—with a “coffee station built to serve,” she says.
Try: Made-to-order filled donut ($1.35 to $1.45). You can choose your filling—from jelly to cream and custard—then select a glazed or dipped doughnut to put it in.
8268 Princeton Glendale Road, West Chester; 513-805-7739
When Dan Milton, the original owner of Milton’s Donut’s, decided to retire in 2014, Amy and Jay Byrne knew they had to buy it. “Milton’s is an iconic institution in this area and we love Middletown, and just did not want to see it close,” Amy Byrne says. The shop has more than 100 items for customers to choose from, including pastries and other baked items in addition to doughnuts. But if that selection alone doesn’t make you want to visit, this will: “In the 2017 National Sweetest Bakery Contest, Milton’s Donuts was voted #1 in Ohio and #3 in the entire United States,” Amy Byrne says. “This is quite an honor to have received.”
Try: Glazed donut (75 cents). Made fresh daily, Milton’s Donuts’ glazed donut is iced with a “special glaze recipe,” she says. “It’s fresh, fluffy, and it tastes great.”
3533 Roosevelt Blvd., Middletown; 513-422-8612
Terri Niederman, the owner of The Donut Spot, describes her Fairfield shop as “cozy, cute, and full of creative confections.” But that’s not the only thing that makes this spot special: it also opens earlier than any other doughnut shop in the area—at 3 a.m. (Wow.)
Try: Cheesecake donut ($1). Niederman says The Donut Shop makes creative confections—and this is certainly one of them. “This doughnut is the ultimate the dessert,” she promises. “It’s a cheesecake-filled doughnut with a cream cheese icing that is to die for.”
5148 Pleasant Ave., Fairfield; 513-863-7033
When Cindy Wallis began working at Juniper Coffee & Donuts, she was hired as a decorator. But when the then-owner saw Wallis’ passion for doughnuts, she asked if Wallis wanted to take over the shop. So it’s no surprise, then, this doughnut shop is well-decorated, especially for the holidays. “We love to do themes at the shop,” Wallis says. Plus, Juniper Coffee & Donuts roasts its own coffee—and “you can order themed lattes and frappes,” Wallis says.
Try: Miami maple merger donut ($1.25) “The doughnut has a maple fluff topping made with maple from our family farm in Northern Ohio,” Wallis describes. It’s topped with candied pecans.
5353 Dixie Highway, Fairfield; 513-829-7674
Stan the Donut Man—whose legal name is Martin Stanley Crowe—says his shop is as old-fashioned as it gets. “People love Stan's because we have great made-from-scratch doughnuts and a friendly environment,” Crowe says. The shop has been owned by the same family for 57 years, “and we continue to use the same recipes,” Crowe says, which only adds to the shop’s old-fashioned vibe.
Try: Apple fritter donut ($1.20). It’s a soft, yeast doughnut topped with cinnamon and apple chunks, “dripping in glaze,” Crowe describes. But what makes this doughnut really special is its shape—it’s square.
7967 Cincinnati Dayton Road, West Chester; 513-759-0016
When asked how old the Oxford Doughnut Shoppe is, owner Joshua Jack Francis has to admit he doesn’t quite know. What he does know is that this shop has been a part of the community for a long time. “We've been in our current location since the 1980s, and across the street for 10 years prior,” he says. “But before Locust Street was developed, the shop was located [somewhere else]. Our current best guess is before the Vietnam War and after WWII.” Francis took ownership of the shop In 2003, after its previous owners fell on hard times. “I saw this as an opportunity to be a large part of my community, and revive a long time Oxford business,” he says. Inside, Oxford Doughnut Shoppe is decorated with local art, and offers plenty of space to kick back and relax with a coffee and doughnut—or two.
Try: Kettle fried cake doughnut ($1). They’re hand-cut, chocolate and red velvet flavored doughnuts, Francis says, “and are a favorite of traveling foodies.”
120 S. Locust St., Oxford; 513-523-9911
Before Harry Combs took ownership of Ross Bakery, his daughter worked there. So, when it went up for sale, Combs saw it as an opportunity to spend more time with his family. Through the shop, Combs has not only brought his family closer—he’s expanded his social network too. “We have made new friends who now visit us regularly, and we’ve met some folks who we will likely never see again since they came from far away,” he says. “But they will remember us, and we will remember them. And occasionally we will get a card from another state or country, which is always fun.” Both locations of Ross Bakery are what Combs describes as “homey and comfortable.”
Try: Filled donut ($1.50 to $2.50). You can try fillings in three different flavors—custard, white sweet cream, and red raspberry jelly. “It seems we can't make enough of them to keep up with demand,” Combs says. “But we try!”
1051 Eaton Ave. and 4421 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton; 513-894-9016