It's a little after 10 a.m. and Xuan To is taking a short break before he starts on the next batch of doughnuts.
"You have to do everything ... This is hard work and long days," To said. But he said it with a smile on his face.
To, 64, is the well-known owner and all around "nice guy" who runs Granny Donuts in West St. Paul.
Granny's has been a West St. Paul institution for two dozen years. This month it's celebrating the anniversary of its opening.
The nondescript shop on Robert Street South between Thompson and Wentworth avenues promises "sweet satisfaction every day," but customers say it's not just the glazed gems that attract them, but also the friendly atmosphere created by the family that runs the shop.
To and his wife normally start their day at the store around midnight. From 6 a.m. to about 8, Granny's is its busiest with a morning rush of customers, To said. The shop used to be open 24/7, and although it is still open every day, the couple have cut the hours down to about 16 or 18 hours a day, To said.
To's four grown children also sometimes help out.
"It's one of those iconic sort of places in town ... Not only are the doughnuts good, but he's really just a nice guy," said West St. Paul Council Member Jim Englin.
To and his wife Que Banh, 58, moved to the United States after being refugees of the Vietnam War, in which To was an officer in the South Vietnamese army. They moved to Casper, Wyo., in 1979. To had several jobs there, the last of which was at an oil refinery, and Banh worked at another Granny's doughnut shop.
But in 1987, the family decided to make a change, mainly encouraged by a brother who said they could do business in Minnesota. After getting the blessing of the Casper shop owner, the family opened its own Granny Donuts on Feb. 1, acquiring the spot of the old Bosa doughnut shop which was formerly the Winchell's Donut House.
More than two decades later, the shop has cultivated a devoted customer base.
"They have the best doughnuts in the world," said Gladys Langer, 82, of Inver Grove Heights. "You cannot find anything better."
A group of seniors congregates in a corner of the shop every day after the morning rush to share a coffee and doughnut and shoot the breeze. Some days they number up to a dozen.
Langer's favorite doughnut? "They're all good."
Frank Premo, 85, of West St. Paul, said he has been going to Granny's since it opened. Many of the people who meet up with him at the shop are also involved in the city's classic car shows, he said. The group of regulars makes the shop special, Premo said, but some days it's a little bit too crowded.
"Sunday you can't move in here," he said.
Dona Hart, 75, of South St. Paul, is a relative newbie to the group. "The budget, the deficit, everything gets solved here," she said with a laugh.
The shop is open 365 days a year, To said, meaning that he and his wife don't get vacations, but they manage to make do.
"Vacations are talking with people and laughing," he said of his customers.
Yet despite the regular morning throngs that visit the shop, business isn't always sweet.
"We're lucky we're still in business. It's very hard. American people aren't spending as much," To said.
Also, people are dieting more, he said, which doesn't help when you are in the pastry business. But Banh said the couple of 41 years has no complaints.
"We have a job to do, and we're happy."
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495