Beach Donuts in Old Lyme: A Connecticut Cult Favorite

Amy Kundrat

Like facial hair and irony, the doughnut has received the hipster embrace, ushering in the likes of Voodoo, Dynamo and Doughnut Plant from New York to Portland, making the once doughnut-non grata, cool again.   

Oblivious to the wax and wane of this food trend, “Beach Donuts” in Old Lyme, Connecticut has steadily and unironically been powering the shoreline with a traditional take on these habit-seeking baked goods for over sixty years. Each Saturday and Sunday in the summer, Ted Powaleny delivers about 125 dozen doughnuts from a kitchen in Clinton to the Shoreline Community Center in Old Lyme, just two blocks from Sound View Beach. From 7 to 10:30 am (or until they sell out), volunteers sell “Beach Donuts” hand-over-fist, with proceeds from the $1 doughnuts, benefitting the Community Center.

The doughnuts were originally sold next door to the Community Center until the town’s Fire Marshall shut down the operation. Although Pauline took his 65-year-old recipe to another kitchen in Clinton, it was the ingenuity of Shirley Annunziata, a long-time neighborhood resident and volunteer, that brought “Beach Donuts” back to Old Lyme. As a volunteer with the Sound View Beach Association, she initially helped to arrange the delivery and sales of the doughnuts as the Center’s major annual Fundraiser. “The proceeds from the doughnuts go to the Community Center, paying the mortgage to support the activities and resources for the community,” said the ebullient Annunziata who is also the Co-Chairman of the Community Center.

I’ve spent countless summer weekends in the area before my first foray on a recent Sunday morning around 8:30 am. I was greeted with the remnants of several traditional doughnut flavors staring out from nearly empty yet promising grease-marked cardboard containers. The hand-formed doughnuts come in a variety of flavors you'll instantly recognize: cinnamon, plain, glazed, jelly, cream-filled, chocolate-frosted, chocolate-glazed, sour cream, honey buns and lemon sticks. The lemon sticks and honey buns are heavily favored and often sell out first according to Annunziata.

With an operation more akin to a potluck supper than café, you can take your beach bounty and head to a rows of folding tables, grab a cup of coffee from a carafe and chat with the locals. Or you can head home and share the wealth, which is what I, somewhat grudgingly, did.

There may not be a La Marzocco machine on the counter, or a lavendar-flavored doughnut on the menu, but my summer weekend ritual has been made infinitely better by a simple yet miraculous sour cream doughnut, with its penetrating layers of glaze and sixty years of tradition.

Beach Doughnuts are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day every Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 10 am at the Shoreline Community Center, 39 Hartford Avenue in Old Lyme, CT.