For decades, she spread joy, tiny doughnut by tiny doughnut, becoming a fixture of the Minnesota State Fair and other festivals.
Janet Desmond’s world — for eight summer weeks, every day, midnight ’til dawn — sparkled with cinnamon sugar.
Almost every fairgoer opted for sugar on her just-fried Tom Thumb doughnuts. They were a “light as a feather” treat exclusive to the Minnesota State Fair, where she pioneered their appearance in 1950.
The sugar got onto everything — aprons, hair, floors, money. A paper bag of 10 doughnuts cost 10 cents, so the take by fair’s end was a mountain of dimes, sticky and spicy.
“It got so that the bank wouldn’t want our money — that it was clogging up their counting machines,” said Bob Everett, who began working for Desmond as a teen in 1968. Today, he’s president of Tom Thumb Donuts in Woodbury.
“She did it all,” he said. “All the buying, scheduling, payroll, all the books she did by hand, entering everything by pencil in this great big binder” that loomed all the larger given that she stood just 5-foot-2. She gave each employee their wages in a Tom Thumb bag.
Her doughnut empire began as a way to boost the family bakery business during the lean summer months. Desmond found a machine in California that made tiny doughnuts called Tom Thumbs. (This was long before the word “mini” hit the scene.)
Early on, she’d stand by the booth with samples for fairgoers, frankly predicting, “One of these days, you’ll be waiting in line for these doughnuts.”
And they do. Last year, they ate 1.4 million of them.