I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
May 19, 2022
You’ll find some of the best donuts in the country at Gramps Coffee & Donuts in Owensboro, Kentucky. But the story behind the shop may be even sweeter.
I challenge you to drive through Owensboro, Kentucky’s historic downtown without stopping — It’s pretty much impossible. The streets are lined with beautifully restored Victorian buildings that today hold trendy boutiques and antique stores, neighborhood bars, cozy coffee shops, and restaurants. Sure, you could keep on going to wherever it was you were going, but why not stop instead and explore for a few minutes, especially when there’s plenty of street parking? That’s exactly how we ended up here last Saturday morning:
The sheer number of people inside Gramps Coffee & Donuts was enough to make us sit up and take notice. In short order, my husband, Dennis, and I parked, entered, and joined the line that snaked all the way to the door.
The three employees behind the counter were busy making lattes and boxing donuts for customers, but as soon as we got in line, one of them paused and looked at us, a creamer-filled carafe in his hands. “Could you put this out?” he asked, looking straight at my husband. We both stared back at him, confused. Out… where? “Dennis,” he said louder. “Could you put this out?” For a second, we stood frozen. Who was this guy and how did he know my husband’s name?
“Oh sure,” came a voice from directly behind my husband. We turned to find two older gentlemen seated at the table behind us. “Sorry,” one of the men said to the barista as he stood up. “Didn’t hear ya the first time.”
My husband laughed. “My name’s Dennis, too,” he told the man. “I thought he was talking to me!”
“Well, how about that?” the man chuckled. “Two Dennises. What are the chances?” Taking the carafe from the barista, he told him, “Hey, this guys’s name is Dennis, too!” We all had a good laugh and then Dennis — my Dennis– and I moved forward in line. As I looked around the place, I noticed the Gramps logo.
The likeness was unmistakeable.
“Dennis!” I whispered, grabbing my husband’s arm. “Dennis is Gramps!” I pointed at the drawing.
“Oh my gosh,” he said. “I think you’re right.”
“We’ve got to talk to him after we get our donuts,” I said excitedly. One thing you should know about me is that I will take literally any opportunity to fangirl — Meeting Gramps at Gramps was no exception.
Once our turn came, we ordered one of everything. It’s the Ferrier way, after all — and I was pretty sure our kids, who were still sleeping in our hotel room, wouldn’t mind helping us eat our way through the options. If you’d been in my shoes, I’m betting you would have done the same…
I mean, how do you choose between a snickerdoodle-glazed donut and one with a lemony frosting that’s counterbalanced by the sweetest of blueberries?
Or a maple-glazed donut versus one topped with chocolate and cookie crumbles?
Once our donuts were boxed and paid for, we headed back over to Donut Dennis.
“Are you Gramps?” I asked him shyly.
“I am,” he beamed. “Where are you folks from?”
We told Gramps we were from Nashville, and said we couldn’t wait to taste his donuts. He told us that the donut shop belonged to his son and daughter-in-law. He was, he said, simply its namesake and ambassador.
“My job is to come in every day from seven to eleven and sit here,” he said. “Then I go home and take a nap. Then I can do whatever I want. It’s great!”
Of course, I had to take a picture.
“You must have a wonderful relationship with your son and daughter-in-law for them to base their entire business around you and want you here every day,” my husband said.
“Well, there’s a story behind that,” Gramps told us. He paused. “It’s on the website,” he said.
I assumed he’d told the story so many times by now to so many customers that he was simply tired of telling it. We didn’t press him. Instead, we listened to his stories of the people he’d met from around the world since the store opened last June — people who’d flown with a box of Gramps donuts all the way back to California, or driven with them to Washington D.C or North Carolina. By the time we said our goodbyes, I was convinced I was holding in my hands a box filled with the greatest donuts known to mankind. It was all I could do to keep from opening the box and diving in on the way back to our hotel.
Once we returned, we borrowed a knife from the kitchen and cut each donut into fourths. Finally, I took my first bite. It was….
IT WAS THE BEST DONUT I HAVE EVER EATEN.
And oh my gosh, people, have I ever tried a lot of donuts! While I have to find the best local coffee shop in every town we visit, my husband is obsessed with bakeries. We have visited a LOT of bakeries and I have tried HUNDREDS of donuts over the years. Gramps is right up there at the tip-top.* Let me try to break it down for you…. Biting into one of these donuts is like biting into deep fried croissant dough. The exterior is crisped to perfection, while inside it’s eggy and flaky and yeasty — a bit like a popover, but wonderfully sweet. The toppings, too, were all thoughtfully executed and utterly, sinfully, delicious.
To put it very simply, when I bit into my donut, it was like the sun came out from behind a cloud and cast one glorious ray upon me while angel music swelled in the background. That’s it. That’s the review.
We went back to Gramps the next morning for more donuts, and we’ll continue going back every time we’re anywhere near Owensboro. Forever. And ever. Amen.
But here’s the real kicker. When we returned home from Owensboro, I did look up the story of Gramps Donuts online — and it was not at all what I had been expecting.
Amy and Greg Gilmore (that’s Amy behind the counter) had always dreamed of opening a coffee and donut shop. When Greg’s father, Dennis, was diagnosed with bone cancer a few years ago, it was a painful reminder that life is short, and the Gilmores were inspired to make their dream a reality. They opened Gramps in downtown Owensboro in June of 2021 and decorated it with Gramps’ famous sayings like ‘Alive & Kickin,’ which is how Gramps likes to describe himself now that he’s recovered from cancer.
Gramps had always loved going to his local coffee shop and meeting and talking to people. The thought of his son and daughter-in-law making him such an integral part of their lifelong dream and giving him a new purpose in his retirement and recovery from cancer makes me… well, it makes me want to cry a little bit. Happy tears. Okay, get it together, Ferrier.
Honestly, there are lots of great places to go in Owensboro, and I hope to write about more of them in the future. But if you’re in Owensboro and you can only go to one place? Make it Gramps. It’s unforgettable, in more ways than one.
*Gramps Donuts led my husband and me into a glorious debate on our all-time favorite donuts. For me, it’s probably a three-way tie right now between Gramps, Britts Donut Shop on Carolina Beach (their simple glazed donuts are so good that the local news comes out to cover the hours-long lines when they open for the season each year), and MoDo Hawaii’s donuts at Mitsuwa in Torrance, California. Five Daughters‘ Purist donuts (I don’t like the flavored ones half as much) here in Nashville have now been pushed into fourth place. Sorry, but them’s the breaks.