Donut shop offers welcoming environment for students

Eak Taing, 56, makes donuts in the kitchen of Great American Donuts. Taing moved to the United States from Cambodia when he was 24. Taing said he has been making donuts for about 20 years. He said they still make donuts the old fashion way.

Mackenzie Mathews

To outsiders, the Great American Donut Shop does not seem like much. To locals, however, it is a hidden treasure.

Urbanspoon, a site that recommends restaurants depending on location, recently named the Great American Donut Shop — known affectionately as GADS —the No. 1 restaurant in Bowling Green.

Cambodia native Sae Taing opened GADS 23 years ago, and it has since made its mark on the town. Most customers are regulars who find themselves returning for more than the famed donuts.

Employee Thai Eng, also from Cambodia, said customers have formed an expectation when going to GADS.

“We have long-time reputations with the community,” he said. “Especially college students come for an environment where they can meet up together.”

Campbellsburg native Cameran Smith, a 2012 WKU graduate, said the shop is unique in that it is personable and constantly available. She said she was not interested in campus parties, so it was nice to have a place to go at night.

“It’s one of the few places that’s open 24 hours a day that’s chill,” she said. “It’s the laid-back atmosphere that drew most of us, and the fact that you can depend on it when you don’t want a big crowd or a lot of noise.”

Bowling Green prides itself on small businesses that make themselves unique in one way or another. For Smith, it is that locality that made all the difference for GADS gaining their local regulars, a group she quickly claimed to be a part of.

“I used to come here all the time — at least three or four times a month — to get my donut fix or hang out,” she said.

Rauel Lebewitz, originally from Virgina Beach, moved to Bowling Green in 2008 and shared similar sentiments for GADS’ qualities. As a fellow small business owner, Lebewitz understands the importance of being open 24 hours.

“Twenty-four hour businesses are in their own unique breed, because you can be home asleep and you’re making money,” he said.

However, GADS is still more than a shop to Lebewitz and his family.

“We used to come here about every week, but since my daughter went to college, now it’s about every month,” he said. “I still come for the company — the atmosphere.”

Lebewitz said he enjoys being able to go into the shop and joke with the baker, Eak Taing, who can be found working all night, every night, preparing donuts for the next day. Taing works by a simple but productive method.

“We never count the donuts we make, because we follow the customer,” Taing said. “We bake by hand, very slow. And we start in the evening and don’t stop until we’re done.”