WILLIAMSBURG — A little less than a decade ago, the general manager and namesake of Emily’s Donuts and Café, Emily McCarthy, came home from college to visit her parents and found a baker’s table in the family’s garage.
Slightly mystified, she asked her father, Jim Yates, about the peculiar piece of furniture. The recently retired owner of a fire protection company said that it was the result of some trades in lieu of money.
While her question had been answered, her curiosity was no less satisfied noting that she had never known her father to take kitchen equipment as payment.
Come to find out, Jim was looking to open a donut shop as a retirement project. Little did Emily know that the table was just the start of what would become Emily’s Donuts and Café.
“At first we kind of joked about it kind of being a hobby,” Emily said of the shop’s origin story. “We thought it would he could get together and do for awhile and then afterwards just sell everything.”
Soon Emily came to realize that her dad was serious. He started doing more research and buying equipment. Before she knew it, he leased and started renovations on the Merrimac Trail location and was also in negotiations with vendors.
Jim opened the shop in 2014, touting 35 varieties of fresh donuts made in-house each day.
He started out with a manager he hired but, before long, that job shifted to Emily who was in the middle of her junior year at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., where she was studying theology to become a church youth minister.
“I started managing from school,” she remembers with a laugh. “That was a whole ordeal in itself. I did all the schedules and payroll. They would send me spread sheets of what was in stock and I would make orders based on that.”
Emily carried on with her one foot in academics and the other in doughnuts until she completed her degree and moved back to Williamsburg to manage the shop in person.
While it might seem that her course of study and the new family business might not have a lot to do with each other, Emily says that the two were very simpatico. Her youth ministry classes used a lot of books one might find in business courses.
“We learned how to take care of ones self and how to manage a team,” she said. “My theology major and my youth ministry classes helped shape the business.”
In the years since taking over a prominent role in the shop, Emily and her father have worked to turn what started out as a retirement project into one of the most sought after breakfast spots in the Historic Triangle.
Despite a global pandemic, Emily said that she and her crew were able to pivot. By making the shop as safe as possible for social distancing in the early days of COVID-19 and selling take home donut decorating kits, the shop continued to grow.
Never one to focus on one thing at a time, while she was running the shop she married her college sweetheart Andrew and had two kids. Between the shop, her husband’s job as a youth minister and parenting two energetic boys, it is easy to wonder when Emily has time to sleep. Just listening to her weekly schedule would make most people want to go take a nap.
Going forward, Emily and her father are open to building their business outside of the shop. The idea of a donut truck has been mentioned. But for now, they are content to continue making donuts and taking care of their people. After all, that business philosophy has worked pretty well so far.
“Over the years I have had to learn what the lines are for ministry and what the lines are for business, and being able to find the middle has been really fruitful,” Emily notes.