Early Wednesday morning, the hot light was illuminated as the doughnut shop burned. A fast-moving fire broke out about 1 a.m., shooting flames and smoke into the Midtown sky and gutting much of the building.
All appears well from the shop’s front doors, but step across the threshold and a charred shell remains, according to Atlanta fire officials. Investigators have not confirmed the cause of the blaze but said the building is likely “totally destroyed.” Two employees working the drive-thru said they were able to make it out safely after seeing wires smoking.
“It’s not going to be open anytime soon,” fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I would say it’s a total loss. The entire back half is burned.”
In a city without many longstanding landmarks, the Krispy Kreme was a mainstay. The shop opened in 1965 on the spot of the old Pig’n Whistle barbecue drive-in and was overhauled in 2003, when the conveyor belt was installed. In 2016, the landmark franchise was bought by basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
The shop was part of Carol Baird’s childhood, so much of which she said has been erased.
“I recall driving my family’s huge 1962 station wagon from East Marietta early one Saturday morning in the late ’60s to the Krispy Kreme,” she said. “I drove the car back to Marietta filled with boxes of doughnuts to sell.”
The pastries were for a church youth group or a school band; she couldn’t remember. But the smell of the sugar and fried dough rising in the air as the sun came up over Ponce was burned in her memory.
In the 1990s, the hot light sign was enough to get Paul Scanling, then an undergrad at Georgia State, off his bus on its way from the North Avenue MARTA station to North Highland Avenue. Georgia Tech alum Kyle Butler and his roommate would make their doughnut runs around midnight to fuel their late-night study sessions.
On a more recent evening, Tech grad student Derek Metcalf said he thought better of spending his small paycheck on a dozen doughnuts, so he scrounged together $10 in spare change from his car to cover his craving.
He was only $2 into counting the coins when the cashier stopped him and told him not to bother with the rest.
“Maybe they were close to closing and would have to throw out the uneaten merchandise, or maybe the cashier didn’t want to touch any more grimy Toyota floor change,” Metcalf said. “Whatever the reason, I think those doughnuts tasted even better 80% off and guilt-free.”
When Atlanta fire crews surveyed the damage Wednesday, the counter that witnessed that small act of grace was melted. In a statement provided by Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp., its celebrity owner said the shop would rebuild.
“We are working with authorities to assess the damage and are uncertain at this point how long the shop will be closed,” the statement read. “However, we plan to reopen the shop as soon as possible! In the meantime, our Ponce team members will continue to receive full pay while we identify and offer them roles at other area Krispy Kreme shops. As Shaq said, ‘We will bounce back better than ever!’”
Jessica VanBrunt has lived a block away from the Krispy Kreme for nearly 11 years. It was her late-night treat growing up, she said, often after a visit to The Varsity or the Old Spaghetti Factory. Once, she ran into Clark Howard, another Atlanta icon, when the hot light was on.
“My dad would pick up a box of doughnuts on his way home, but would somehow manage to eat all of them before arriving,” she said. “He said they were like air, you could just eat one after the other.”
Walking by the building every day fills her with nostalgia, she said. That walk is likely to look a little different now.
Headquarters: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Atlanta’s shop: The eighth store in the doughnut shop chain opened in Atlanta in 1937 on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
A makeover: The Krispy Kreme on Ponce temporarily closed for two months in 2003 for remodeling.
New owner: Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal bought the shop in October 2016.