Worker completes the sign at Dunkin's Donuts

Dunkin' Donuts, which is scheduled to open next week, is shown in Pelham, Ala., on Jan. 26, 2010. Eric Rogers with Hilton Displays (Greenville, S.C.) fastens a sign into place - (The Birmingham News / Beverly Taylor)

Michael Tomberlin for the The Birmingham News writes that partners David Belcher and Bill Jenkins are out to fill a long-standing hole in the market.

Their company, RFS LLC, owns the franchise rights for Dunkin’ Donuts and will open the chain’s first area location at 5 a.m. Monday in Pelham. The opening will complete an 18-month process for RFS and signals the beginning of an expansion that could bring 21 Dunkin’ locations to the metro area over eight years.

Belcher and Jenkins decided to pick up the Birmingham market when Dunkin’ was looking to expand into the state but a previous franchise deal fell through.

“If you’re looking to get into the franchise business, why not get into a name that everybody already knows but is not already in the market?” Belcher said.

Dunkin’ Donuts has been a well-known name in Northern states for nearly six decades, but has not focused on expanding in the South — long thought to be Krispy Kreme territory — until recent years.

But Dunkin’ has differentiated itself from other doughnut shop chains with the growing popularity of its coffee, which can be found in grocery stores across the state, and the addition of bagels, muffins and breakfast sandwiches.

RFS has rights to the Birmingham metro area, stretching from Cullman to Clanton and including Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair counties. Belcher said two other area locations are likely this year, though he declined to identify where they will be.

Jenkins said when his long-time friend Belcher came to him with the idea to buy the Dunkin’ franchise, he jumped at the chance. Belcher’s family owns Royal Automotive and has been in the car business in Birmingham for decades.

“I had been praying for additional opportunities,” said Jenkins, who is a partner in a manufacturing business. “Everything I’ve ever done worth doing, someone else asked me to do it with them, so this felt right.”

With its high-profile location at 480 Cahaba Valley Road off Interstate 65 in Pelham, Bryan Holt of Retail Specialists Inc. believes the first area Dunkin’ location will find success.

“This was hard to beat in terms of access and visibility,” said Holt, who is handling site searches for RFS.

The Pelham shop will be the second Alabama location for the chain, which opened one last year in Dothan.

Actually, this is a return to the metro area for Dunkin’. The chain operated at least one shop in the Birmingham area when the company franchised individual locations, but it closed several years ago.

While its history is tied to doughnuts, Dunkin’s coffee is helping the attract a following today. The company, a subsidiary of Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin Brands Inc., now sells more than 1 billion cups of hot and iced coffee every year.

Monday’s grand opening in Pelham will include free travel mugs to the first 400 customers along with Dunkin’ Donuts “Be My Guest” cards redeemable for a free cup of coffee or a free doughnut.

Greg Biddle, director of operations for RFS, is spending this week tying up the loose ends prior to the opening. Fifty employees have been training for the start over the past two weeks, and there was a display case of full of doughnuts in the shop on Tuesday.

The Birmingham News