On July 5, 2016, the City of Norman began construction on the Imhoff Creek Bridge on Lindsey Street, roughly 1,056 feet from local-favorite doughnut shop, Donut King. Twenty-eight days earlier, the owner of Donut King, Sanjay Patel, died.
Patel had been in a coma for nearly five years after suffering a stroke in 2011. He left his beloved doughnut shop to his wife, Dipti, and sister, Jasi, who had been part-time owners since Patel bought the store 23 years ago. Today, Dipti and Jasi Patel are just two of many business owners on Lindsey Street who struggled to keep their store afloat during construction.
But with the help of the University of Oklahoma, Dipti and Jasi have survived the construction that sits just feet from their front door.
“It will continue to do good because we have a very good reputation, and we have very good quality,” Dipti Patel said. “... Thank God we have our university contract, otherwise we could not survive. It’s that bad.”
Sanjay Patel attended OU in the early '90s, and his love for the university continued long after he graduated. His relationship with his former college only grew stronger when he signed a contract with OU almost 20 years ago, making Donut King the official university doughnut provider, a status which it still holds today.
After Patel suffered his stroke in 2011, Donut King failed to renew the contract due to a miscommunication when the Patels switched emails. Dipti Patel called OU director of food services Frank Henry weekly, trying to find a way to regain the contract once the miscommunication was realized.
“It tore me up when I found out about Sanjay,” Henry, who has been working at OU for over 30 years, said. “He’s the one I dealt with when he first started 20-some years ago, and when they lost that contract, it tore (Dipti) up.”
That contract had been the driving force behind Donut King keeping its doors open.
“A lot of our revenue comes from the university,” Dipti said.
Luckily, the Patels were able to regain the contract in 2016 before construction on Lindsey began.
Since the beginning of construction, Dipti said Donut King has lost half of its revenue, and with a new median in the street, it's become impossible for customers to even turn left into their shop.
“It’s hurting so bad, so bad — it’s frustrating,” Jasi Patel said. “We are trying our best.”
When Dipti left India for Oklahoma in 1990, she had no idea that Norman would become her permanent home. She followed her arranged husband, Sanjay, who was attending OU at the time, hoping for a better life and a successful future.
Sanjay and Dipti Patel began working at the local Dunkin’ Donuts in 1991, hoping to settle down in the Oklahoma town. In 1994, when the previous owner became seriously ill, he decided to sell the store to his most loyal employee — Sanjay.
Five years later, Sanjay and Dipti separated from Dunkin’ Donuts, buying the land and renaming the shop Donut King. They eventually bought two more doughnut shops — one located on 12th Avenue in Norman and the other 24 minutes west in the city of Blanchard, Oklahoma.
“When I started here, it was not a great business,” Dipti said. “After two or three years, my husband and I worked 12 to 16 hours a day because we had to pay all the money to relatives and everybody, so we worked very, very hard.”
Now, Donut King has turned into a well-oiled machine, staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. College students love it for the proximity, while locals enjoy it for the relatability. Having variety and low prices is what separates it from local competitors and keeps it in business.
Despite the many recent hardships the Patels have faced, they continue to do what they know best — work. The construction on Lindsey finished just last month, which the Patels hope will bring back Donut King's lost business.
For now, you can find the family's doughnuts not only on Lindsey but also anywhere from Crossroads in Oklahoma Memorial Union to Couch cafeteria.
"Any place that has donuts, it’s their donut," Henry said. "It’s all about knowing the business. They know where we are, what we do. They know they might get a call tonight from catering that they need five dozen donuts. They do everything they can to get that stuff to us."
"I don’t think they’ve ever said, ‘No, we can’t do that.’"