Downtown and Doughnuts

There’s a strange little building downtown, sitting on the corner of Commerce and Tallapoosa, across from the Renaissance Hotel and kitty-corner from Sous La Terre. This building is fairly new, and the landscape around it seems even newer, as if someone had laid sod in a hotel parking lot. Even more unusual, this building has already housed several things ranging from a boutique that sold purses and fashion accessories to a specialized hybrid retail counter attempting to sell zoo and museum tickets (presumably) to conventioneers or tourists staying in the hotel across the street.

What’s the story with this little corner? It’s city-owned property, being touted as a sort of small business incubator, wherein a business gets a government-aided boost in the form of downtown temporary retail space. You may remember MML blogging about it when it was housing a special holiday shop sponsored by Better Block Montgomery. The Chamber of Commerce was fired up about the boutique, a place called Ciao Bella that had moved downtown from Mulberry. We’re not sure whether Ciao Bella was “incubated” or not, but they appear to currently only be selling online.

Retail is tough going, especially if you have a narrow market. But that’s exactly why we’re excited about the current occupant of the downtown incubator, Charlie’s Donuts and Yogurt. Everybody loves those things. More importantly, Charlie’s is making amazing doughnuts and filling an important slot in the downtown economic ecosystem: early morning coffee and quick, easy snacks.

We went by Friday afternoon as a total whim. We had no idea Charlie’s was there. We were coming out of the hotel and said, “Hey, there seems to be something new over there in the incubator.” A tiny sign suggested that doughnuts could be procured. We ventured inside.

While placing our order, we marveled to the cashier that despite working downtown, we had no idea that this treasure trove of coffee and doughnuts was in existence.

“Yeah,” we were told with a slight sigh of resignation, “Because the property is city-owned, there are some restrictions on the kinds of signs we can use out front for advertising.”

That’s not good! The entire city should know that Charlie’s is producing the best doughnuts that we’ve tasted in this city. The ability to procure cheap and quick coffee has the potential to fundamentally transform our downtown morning routine. The shop is clean and staffed by at least one very friendly person, and we have no idea whether the yogurt is good (but it probably is).

Evidently, there was a blurb in the local media when Charlie’s opened at the start of the summer. The impending cooler weather is likely to at least somewhat depress the sales of frozen yogurt, but might help with sales of coffee and hot doughnuts. If the Downtown Business Association is really pushing this thing, maybe Charlie’s and the lunch-only food-truck-but-not-really-a-food-truck next to it will succeed.

Charlie’s does their baking at an off-site bakery and is hoping to capitalize on foot traffic from the nearby hotels and law offices. But the red velvet doughnuts we sampled are good enough to justify a cross-town trip. Parking isn’t ideal, with meters seeming to be your only options for limited spaces, but if you can get in the front door, you’ll be glad you did. Signage restrictions aside, the doughnuts are good enough to survive only on word of mouth advertising.

Note that the hours are a little funky. There’s a four hour window of the day on weekdays when they’re not open. And although they are open into the night, it’s not quite late enough to ring up sales from folks coming home from the bars and downtown nightlife. The Saturday hours are afternoons only, and due to a quirk with their baking situation, Saturdays are yogurt only, no doughnuts. And they’re closed Sundays.

Nonetheless, do yourself a favor: Go to Charlie’s. Get some glazed goods, maybe a few muffins. Treat your co-workers. Build some frozen yogurt into your next downtown hike.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, nine fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Now if they could just remove all the calories….

  2. Joe Birdwell says:

    I really like what they’ve done with the space.
    If they added a cereal bar option it could be a fun quirk that isn’t around other places, would offer more toppings for the FroYo, and would give them another breakfast item to offer.

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