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New Owners Hope to Build on Moonrise Donuts' Popularity

When Moonrise Donuts opened in an old Subway sandwich shop location in Latonia back in 2017, it immediately caught on with fans.

Its unique concept of exclusively serving donuts in the evening was both a throwback to the long-gone Latonia Bakery that neighborhood lifers recall rushing to back in the day, and a welcome addition to a slowed business district in the central Covington area.

It was not unusual then or now to see lines formed before the doors open, or as founder Keith Bales said at the beginning, when the moon rises.

Now, Bales has handed off his successful creation to father-and-son Gary and Drew Dawson.

They are well-known for their work with the ReUse Center and other ventures, and now are in the donut business.

The Dawsons' entry follows their own exploration of operating a Moonrise location in Newport. Bales had already expanded to Crescent Springs, which, unlike Latonia, serves donuts exclusively in the daytime.

"We were talking to (Bales) since the beginning of the year to open one in Newport and he was on board with that and while were looking for locations, he decided it might be time for him to just retire and do other things," Drew Dawson said. "He offered us to buy the existing location."

So, instead of expanding to Newport, the Dawsons have the keys to the Moonrise locations in Latonia and Crescent Springs.

"We thought that would be easier than opening a new one. We may do that down the road but taking over the two has been a lot of work," Dawson said. 

The younger Dawson said that he and his wife, Jennifer, have been Moonrise fans since it opened in Latonia. "My wife said, main, there has to be more of these. We would love to open one some time," he said.

Dawson is still operating the ReUse Center in Cincinnati and the Florence native who lives in Ft. Mitchell is also in contracting, handyman services, and real estate.

"I used to eat a lot of donuts but nothing in the baking field at all, but I've always had a deep appreciation for it," he said.

So do their children, 15- and 10-year old boys, and a 13-year old girl, who all attend Beechwood schools.

"They love it," Dawson said. "Our whole family has been huge fans since the first time we went almost four years ago."

The kids are even putting in hours at the donut shop.

"And they love it because I get to bring home donuts almost every night."

To learn the lay of the donut land, Dawson spent three weeks making nothing but donuts and then teaching others how to do it. 

"I got a whole new appreciation for donuts," he said. "There's a lot involved."

One thing that is uncertain even to Dawson is why the deep appreciation for Moonrise so quickly?

"I've actually wondered that myself," he said. "I think it's the variety and the quality, as well as the hot donut. The hot donut is so unique, so because of that and the menu changes every day, I think our customers just love trying to find when they have their favorite donut and they get excited about going to get it.

"It's really a cult following of people who love it."

Dawson said in Latonia, Moonrise has become a destination, "which is surprising for a little Latonia donut shop. People love to go down there and just experience it."

Drew Dawson is handling most of the day-to-day operations while his father, the retired Gary, is putting in limited time while also volunteering at his church.

They both have learned how to cook donuts, and were surprised at how labor-intensive it is, Drew Dawson said. "Everything just has to go together and fit just right because you have from start to finish, making the dough, cooking them, cooling them, getting them ready, choosing the menu every day. There's just a lot more involved than I ever thought there would be."

Crescent Springs is also building in popularity, Dawson said, though it took a while for customers to learn that that location was a daytime spot. "They've really started to build up a regular client base and people are happy to have a boutique donut shop," he said.

Though the keys to Moonrise have changed hands, customer can expect much to stay the same.

"First and most important we are wanting to keep things the way they are and not wanting to change much as far as the core Moonrise characteristics," Dawson said. "We don't plan on making any big changes. We want to keep it going and letting it grow and possibly open more locations down the road and really just let it reach its full potential so all of Northern Kentucky can experience it."

But that growth will be strategic and well-planned, Dawson said, with no set timeline right now.

"My dad likes to be a man of action. He'd probably do it in a few months. I'm a little more cautious," Dawson said. "We make a good balance."

-Staff report

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