Honey Dew Celebrates Fifty Years of Classic Comforts, Community and Creativity

Owner Dick Bowen shares how the beloved franchise got its start and where it's headed, as well as the surprising story behind how the fan-favorite cinnamon sticks came to be.
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Courtesy of Honey Dew

You know the scene: A brightly lit and colorful space accentuated by the welcoming aroma of fresh coffee tinged with a bit of sweetness. Your favorite barista greets you by name at the cash register while another gets started on your order that they memorized long ago. The person behind you in line taps your shoulder and you end up catching up with your neighbor from a few houses down. You leave with a refreshing iced latte and pastry bag in hand, now fully ready to tackle the day ahead.

With 115 locations across Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Honey Dew’s stores and services are a familiar, even comforting experience for many a New Englander, and they have been for half a century.

“It’s mind blowing, I never think about the number of years and then when I hear about it, it’s like you gotta be kidding me,” says Honey Dew’s founder, Dick Bowen, about the franchise’s staying power.

Bowen looks back fondly on the simplicity of the first Honey Dew he established in 1973, an unassuming shop in Mansfield which served hot coffee in ceramic mugs at a counter with just twelve stools.

“Those days were truly wonderful. About 80 percent of the shop was allocated for sit down and just 20 percent was allocated for takeout. Back then customers would sit, have a cup of coffee, enjoy a doughnut and talk about anything and everything,” he recalls. “And in those early days we sold coffee and doughnuts, period. There was no flavored iced coffee or breakfast sandwiches. We didn’t have computers, credit cards or even meal tax! Life was pretty darn simple, I have to say.”

Honey Dew Old Photo

The doughnut counter at the original Honey Dew. Courtesy of Honey Dew

But his appreciation for a welcoming place to grab a good cuppa Joe and pastry go back even further. The oldest of seven children, Bowen began working alongside his father in a doughnut shop at about ten years old.

“We lived in the projects of Roslindale and my father worked as an MBTA bus driver during the day and made doughnuts at night to be able to provide for all of us,” he explains. “We didn’t see him very much and I missed him, so when I got to be of age, I begged him to let me work with him.”

On Friday and Saturday nights, his father would make the doughnuts and Bowen would get to fry them. He kept that gig all the way through high school and to this day he remembers being dazzled by the shop’s owner.

“He had a house with a backyard, and he had a family car that didn’t break down all the time so I was pretty impressed with that right off the bat!” he says with a laugh. “But I really loved the business, too. I remember people would come in the middle of the night and we’d all be talking about sports and the weather and politics. That’s the way the doughnut and coffee business was — a gathering place where people could sit around and talk. I loved that atmosphere.”

Self-admittedly not the best student — though he did come up with the name ‘Honey Dew’ while doodling in English class, so clearly school was good for something — Bowen couldn’t wait to graduate in 1965. College wasn’t on the table at the time, so rather than get drafted, he decided to enlist in the army. He got out after three years and immediately returned to his passion managing a doughnut shop in Norton, Massachusetts. Fast forward through another three years of working and saving and the aspiring entrepreneur was ready to open his own business.

Coffee And Pastries

Courtesy of Honey Dew

“I’m 25 years old and I have everything in the world invested into it so I worked a tremendous amount. I made the doughnuts, washed floors, cleaned toilets – I did it all,” he explains. “I was out there with the customers and got to know people in boy scouts, girl scouts and local churches. We really became part of the community and that really is part of the success of our chain. That in fact was our tagline for a very long time: ‘Enjoy the local flavor.’”

After about two years, a customer-turned-friend approached Bowen with the idea of opening another store under the Honey Dew name in Taunton, Massachusetts. He was game, and before long was setting up a friend of a friend at a third location in Seekonk. He developed a solid franchise system and it’s only grown from there in the fifty years since. It’s also come full circle in that growing Honey Dew allowed him to work with his family, just like that fateful little doughnut shop that gave him time with his dad as a kid.

“Two of my brothers run locations in Rhode Island, which is cool,” Bowen says. “And then when my kids were in school, they worked the shops all the time. It was a great experience for them and a fantastic opportunity for us to bond,” he says. “And now my grandkids are working in the shops too!”

Some highlights from Honey Dew’s storied past include an appearance by a young Olivia Culpo (pre-pageant winning) in an early ad campaign along with partnerships with worthwhile charities like the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Rodman Ride for Kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters and currently the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Bowen especially takes pride in the amount Honey Dew has been able to raise for breast cancer prevention.

The franchise has also seen its fair share of happy surprises along the way – one of which took place during an incident many locals know and remember all too well.

“Back in 1978 there was a major snowstorm. Nobody was prepared for it – the snow kept coming and coming and next thing you know, my baker and I are stuck at the Mansfield Honey Dew,” Bowen recalls. “Luckily another employee lived nearby, so we were able to stay overnight there, but before that I said, ‘listen, while we’re stuck here, let’s put our time to good use.’”

He and the baker tried several different recipes that night hoping one would well, stick, and boy did it.

“A lot of babies were born nine months later, I’ll tell you that,” Bowen says with a laugh. “But our signature cinnamon stick was created that night as well. It’s now one of our bestsellers.”

Another pivotal moment in the franchise’s history came during a different type of natural disaster: the pandemic.

“In recent history what stands out to me is the way that the franchisees and my corporate staff handled COVID. When it first came out it was pure chaos. Nobody knew what was going on and the rules kept changing, but my staff just rolled up their sleeves and they were amazing,” he says. “It was wicked hard to maintain everything that we were doing but we got through it like we do everything, and that to me was another major moment of pride.”

So just what is the secret to such longevity?

“The key to success is consistency,” Bowen claims.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “But Honey Dew has changed so much throughout the years…”


Courtesy of Honey Dew

You wouldn’t be wrong: What once exclusively served up classic comforts like donuts and coffee now offers whatever comfort food looks like to you, whether that’s a breakfast burrito (which Bowen can personally assure are delicious), an asiago bagel, a mango refresher or a caramel Oreo® cookie blast. He also regularly meets with franchisees to get a sense of what new products customers would like to see.

The company even recently dropped “donuts” from the name to reflect its evolution.

“When I first opened for the first several years, the doughnut sales were 70 percent of the business. The other 30 percent was the rest of the coffee and drinks,” Bowen explains. “Now, only 7 or 8 percent of sales are doughnuts.”

The consistency in question really lies in Honey Dew’s quality and the service.

“I always get the very best products that you can buy. We don’t skimp on anything. We have good competition so we have to be better than them in regard to what I can control, and that would be products,” he says. “But our biggest competitor is ourselves. We must maintain that energy that you had when you first got into business. That gets you through it.”

One of Bowen’s favorite sayings is one he came across long ago: “If you stand still in the fast-food business, you go backwards.”

“I love that because if we did stand still, we’d just be standing around serving just coffee and doughnuts in a little shop. I’d love to go back to those days sometimes, but you can’t. We always go forward and listen to what’s going on to stay relevant and make sure our customers are happy,” Bowen explains. “It’s a lot of work, but if you love what you’re doing, it’s not work, right?”

And that love is apparent in the way customers keep coming back, if not to gather in the way they used to, but to still get that sense of community, even in the form of a friendly smile from that favorite barista at the register or the window.

So, please keep doing what you dew, Honey Dew, so we can have you around for fifty more.

Hot Cup

Courtesy of Honey Dew