Amazing Glaze

Long’s Bakery owners Joe and Cindy Rene have a sweet story to tell

By Rebecca Townsend

»Many a customer has fallen in love with the famous Long’s Bakery doughnut. But this story begins with the love that was built over an assembly line of Long’s doughnuts, back in 1978. It was then that southsiders Joe and Cindy Rene, now husband and wife and part-owners of the long-standing and much-beloved bakery, began formally dating.

Joe, who has been working at Long’s for 41 years now, started his career at the bakery right after graduating from Southport High School in 1974. He soon saw Cindy, the granddaughter of Carl Long, who opened the original bakery location on 16th Street in 1955, but didn’t realize her relation to the Long family.

It was around 1978 when Cindy’s father, Mike Long, introduced them at Carl Long’s retirement party. “That was that,” Joe says. “We started dating and got married a year after that.”

Now Joe and Cindy represent the third generation to continue the tradition of feeding the doughnut cravings of central Indiana. The couple live in Perry Township and have raised three children: Jennifer, 33, Adam, 29, and Ally, 26, who, like their dad, are all graduates of Southport. Cindy’s brothers, Dennis and Mark Rinehart, are also part-owners of the family business, and several of the family’s fourth generation are learning the ropes, paving the way for a solid Long’s doughnut supply for years to come.

A Circle City Classic
Near midday on a bright Wednesday, a single-file line snakes along a winding hand rail that establishes order for the throng of customers. On busy days, the line stretches well past the doors and down the block. On this particular day, about 20 people are standing, peaceably waiting for the just deserts of their patience.

In the bakery’s glass case, a bounty, impossible to fully experience in a single trip, awaits. Cream horns, cookies, cakes, Danishes and doughnuts are arranged on trays. The scent of glazed yeast wafts through the air, acting as an irresistible aromatherapy for the masses.

Along Southport Road, Long’s southside store, which opened in 1987, also has a midday line. In the back, the staff is still cranking out a stream of hot doughnuts.

“I like everyone to know our doughnuts are made from scratch, and they are made fresh every day,” says Joe. “They are fresh at 5:30 in the morning and at 8 o’clock at night because they’re made all day.

“This is a tough business,” he adds. “It takes a lot of hard work. … People don’t realize how hard it is to produce something from scratch. These are the same recipes we’ve had from the get-go, since the beginning.”

He estimates the Long’s team cranks out several hundred dozen doughnuts per day, not to mention the other treats. Among the raw ingredients necessary to fuel production: a ton of powdered sugar per week.

Finding a customer to extol the bakery’s virtues is no trouble. The first one asked at random offers a perfect illustration of just how deep the Long’s tradition runs. Customer Jackie Schabel estimates she’s been coming to Long’s for 60 years. On a recent visit, she stopped in to pick up a whipped cream cake to honor the birthday of her deceased mother, Betty Randall, who was also a big fan of the bakery.

“They are wonderful, always the best,” Schabel says. “No matter where we live in Indiana, it’s a place to come back to.”

Howard Cravens, who has worked at Long’s for more than 20 years, says the bakery’s tradition gives him a sense of pride: “When you think of all the people who’ve had our doughnuts — they’re known around the world.”

Bob Knight, Dale Earnhardt, Elton John, Martha Stewart, Ashley Judd, legions of IndyCar drivers: They’ve all had Long’s. And it makes Cravens happy to be a part of the crew whose output is so widely enjoyed.

“I like working here,” he says. “It’s a family-owned business. They’ve been good to me; that’s why I’ve stayed.”

The bakery offers its full-time employees 401(k) plans, subsidized health care with vision and dental, plus paid vacation. Still, with 80 employees, they are almost always hiring.

“It’s hard to teach people to come in and do this work,” Joe says.

“You teach people, and either they quit or something happens and you start all over,” Cindy explains. Still, the Renes say they have “a good core group of people” and continuously advertise the offer of steady work.

“There aren’t too many of these bakeries around anymore,” Joe says. “They can come in here and learn a trade.”

Cravens says his reputation as a Long’s worker often precedes him. “They won’t cash my checks at the bank unless I bring them doughnuts,” Cravens says, noting that people are always asking him, “Where are my doughnuts?”

The bankers, the grocers, the doctor’s office … Cravens is loathe to go in empty-handed. After all these years, he has burned himself out on regular yeast doughnuts, but he’s never lost his taste for chocolate cake, which happens to be Joe’s favorite, too. (Cindy is partial to the apple cinnamon fries.)

Answering the Call
Employees are at work around the clock, as is Joe, who has worked a six-day week throughout his career. (“I don’t know what’s it’s like to have a weekend,” he says, without resentment.) Both he and Cindy are on call 24/7; it is not uncommon for him to be called in at 2 a.m. or to work around the clock to help keep the ship afloat.

“My grandpa actually lived right next to the bakery,” Cindy says. “He was always there. Even after he retired, he was always there. You have to be on top of it all the time.”

In addition to keeping up with the demands of daily production, the bakery fields a never-ending series of requests for donations. Not in cash, Cindy says, but doughnuts. Last year, Long’s worked with WIBC to auction off a year’s worth of doughnuts to support the Salvation Army. Several other local charities and nonprofits also benefit from Long’s support. All the day-old doughnuts go to a rotating list of local shelters.

At the southside location, Joe and Cindy collect money to help the city retire and replace old, weathered flags that have neared the end of their service flying along Southport Road. Joe says he’s happy to see the area revitalizing.

“Southport is just a nice area,” he says. “I’m glad to see redevelopment with new businesses along Southport Road. Hopefully it’s the start of something good for the Southport area.”

Reflecting upon Long’s legacy within the community, Cindy says, “I hope that we’re known for our customer service and the quality of product and our price. I don’t know where else you’ll find doughnuts like ours for the price.”

She says an effort to keep the lowest-possible prices is also the bakery’s reason for operating as a cash-only business.

Every day at Long’s is doughnut day. However, business does tend to spike on National Doughnut Day, the first Friday in June. The days before major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day, are also maximum-load days.

“Sometimes we have to cut orders off,” Cindy says. “There’s not enough time in the day. People don’t realize how long it takes to produce these things from scratch.”

But just about any customer will be happy to confirm what has been common knowledge from the south side to the Speedway and far beyond for more than 60 years — Long’s doughnuts are well worth the wait.