By Mary Elizabeth Dial, Staff Correspondent
When Chris Cothran’s grandparents purchased a Shipley Do-Nuts franchise in 1962, it was no more than another franchise. Today, however, the red and white box from Cothran’s Bakery is one of Gadsden’s most recognizable symbols. Even as major franchises open in town, the now-locally owned Cothran’s survives and even thrives with the new competition.
The shop moved to its current location on George Wallace Drive in 1972. According to third-generation owner Chris Cothran, the spot was selected because it was affordable and because the area was just beginning to grow. The only other business in the area at the time was Off-Campus Bookstore, which has since closed. As new businesses came to Wallace Drive, the neighborhood grew around the bakery and cemented its place in Gadsden.
In 1992, the Cothran family split from Shipley, put its own name on the business and started making more than just doughnuts. Today, the bakery’s cookies and cakes are as well known as the giant doughnut sign outside.
As delicious as they are, part of their fame is due to the colorful icing that employees use to hand-decorate each one.
“We have had a lot of extremely talented [cake and cookie] decorators over the years,” says Cothran. “They enjoy what they do and they realize that they’re a part of someone’s special day… There’s a sense of pride in it.”
That sense of pride is essential to keeping up the demanding pace of production, especially in the busier months of the year. Cothran estimates that that shop moves about 20,000 hand-decorated cookies in the three weeks before Christmas, with each batch requiring 12 hours for the icing to dry. It’s hard work, but worth it for something customers enjoy so much.
“We have sent cookies to so many different places around the world,” Cothran says. “We no longer do the mailing ourselves, but we still have customers come in asking us to package it up so they can send it.”
Most batches are mailed to military bases around the globe, so that the men and women serving overseas can have a little taste of home.
In the wake of major franchises opening in Gadsden, Cothran’s could easily have gone the way of so many other mom-and-pop shops that couldn’t keep up with competition. Instead, the bakery is thriving, likely because Cothran sees an opportunity where others see a threat to his business.
“There’s room in town for all of us,” Cothran says of his competition. “We want to see everybody succeed. If business are succeeding, our whole community is succeeding.” He also says he has been impressed by the loyalty his customers have shown, if not surprised.
Recently, Cothran’s has seen huge shows of support over social media, with patrons vowing to keep the bakery in business when competitors came to town. The readers of AL.com even chose Cothran’s as the best non-chain doughnut shop in the state. With fans like these, Cothran’s looks set to keep baking in Gadsden for a long time.