ANDERSON TWP., Ohio -- Flat-screen TVs, a fireplace – these are the atmospherics that await doughnut-eaters in Anderson Township’s Towne Center. With its grand opening planned for Saturday (having soft-opened last week), Top This Donut Bar & Ice Cream serves custom-prepared doughnuts as well as coffee and other sweet treats.
“We encourage people to come and stay,” said Jennifer Renfro, co-owner of the quickly growing local chain. “It’s a fun place to be.”
The doughnut café is one of two new tenants in Anderson’s Towne Center, the centerpiece of the township’s effort to transform a bedroom community into a place where residents and visitors can find entertainment on a Saturday night.
Top This patrons start with a plain cake doughnut – or cookie or Rice Krispies bar – and add glazes and other toppings.
A few feet from Top This is another new eatery: Pieology, a custom-make-it franchise pizza shop that Business Insider called "the fastest growing restaurant in America," scheduled to open in April.
Both are examples of the trend in fast food toward interactive preparation or build-your-own – along the lines of Chipotle or Orange Leaf. With hundreds of possibilities, these have come a long way from “hold the pickle, hold the lettuce,” offering patrons not just a meal or dessert but a form of entertainment.
They’re the kind of contemporary amenity Anderson planners hope will help make a vibrant downtown scene. Steve Sievers, the township’s assistant administrator for operations, said Pieology and Top This occupy some of the last available space in the Towne Center, which has been under various phases of construction as the township has worked to transform the area into a walkable storefront neighborhood.
“I think (they are) representative of the type of dining experience people are looking for,” Sievers said. “As people shift their purchasing patterns to online or bigger box (stores), they look to these types of settings more for entertainment activity, interaction. They go to what we’re seeing up at the Towne Center, which is a lot of restaurant interactions, a lot of services,” like hair salons and gyms.
“There’s been dramatic progress these past two months on construction,” Sievers said. “It’s an amazing transformation. The walls of the movie theater are going up," referring to the Carmike multiplex that's nearing completion.
Pieology franchise owner Erich Luichinger said he chose the Anderson address because he expects foot traffic.
“We’re excited about everything that’s happening at the Anderson Towne Center, the redevelopment there,” he said. “Everything from the Kroger expansion to the movie theater, to the fitness (center) that are going in there. All of those are very complementary to what we’re doing.
“The user mix in Anderson that’s right there and walkable,” he said. “You could come to Pieology, get a pizza, walk to get a movie, and then walk to get a dessert at the ice cream place or the new donut shop that went in. Park the car once and you’re able to have a great Saturday evening.”
Luichinger also owns a Pieology franchise adjacent to the University of Cincinnati, which opened in August 2015 and is smaller than what he calls the 2.0 model in Anderson. Company headquarters is in Orange County, California. The Anderson location is scheduled to celebrate its grand opening April 5.
Like Luichinger, Top This’s Renfro said the promise of a lively neighborhood setting drew her company to the Towne Center.
“That area is becoming very vibrant. There’s a movie theater going in, an apartment building going up, Kroger’s expanding and Anderson Township is booming in that area,” she said. “So we felt that it was the right time to come into that spot. It (the storefront) had been sitting there for a while,” after a Caribou coffee shop closed. “So we wanted to bring the coffee/doughnut shop back to Anderson Township, and we thought this is a good time.”
The Anderson location is Top This’s second shop; the first opened next to Xavier University. Renfro said the company, based in Cincinnati, plans to open a new location in Fort Thomas this spring and is looking for a fourth spot in the area.
As for progress at the center, said Sievers: “Within the next three to four months, there will probably be 15 projects under construction or in final design within a half-mile of that location … It’s going to be a mess, but when we’re all done it’s going to be a beautiful cake.”
Make that a cake doughnut.