Taste the Memory

One local doughnut shop recreates the historic neighborhood experience.


 
By Jayna Morris | Photography by Scott Beseler | Published August 2019
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Keith Bales

In the heart of Latonia’s business district, customers line up on Winston Avenue outside a compact, one-story storefront just as the sun begins to set. Inside the building, walls are hung with vintage photos of the Covington neighborhood. Steam billows from the kitchen as hundreds of hot doughnuts—glazed, blueberry, cinnamon—leave the fryer. When doors finally open, the line ofpeople is long, sometimes reaching the corner.

This is typical for Moonrise Doughnuts, which serves more than 130 dozen fresh doughnuts on any given night. Why serve doughnuts in the evening? Well, it’s a neighborhood tradition.

Keith Bales (’93, ’97), a lifelong resident of Latonia and the man behind Moonrise, wanted to recreate a treasured piece of history—the old Latonia Bakery, which sold hot doughnuts at night from the building until the late 80s. Bales remembers running with his friends to the bakery after sunset to get hot, fresh doughnuts, and now, decades later, he’s brought the experience back to the neighborhood.

At Moonrise, families buy doughnuts for breakfast the next morning. Some stop by for dessert after dinner. Customers pick up catering orders for weddings or parties. Others grab their to-go bags on the way to bonfires or sporting events.

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Bales’ background isn’t in baking doughnuts, but he’s no stranger to entrepreneurship. He began buying rental properties when he was 20 years old and has owned a janitorial service, nuisance abatement business and, briefly, sandwichshop over the years.

“As a business owner, I was always interested in social causes and the government’s role in solving those issues,” he says. “I wanted to get more involved, but I realized in order to do that I needed to gain a bit of credibility… so I went back to school. I began with sociology because it was a macro approach to social systems, and I added psychology as a double major because it helped me understand the human behavior component of public policy.”

When Bales became an undergraduate student at Northern Kentucky University,he was nearly 30 years old. He gained experience at several different agencies while pursuing his undergraduate degrees, then enrolled in NKU’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. He went on to become a juvenile probation officer and spent most of his career in the local juvenile detention center.

Bales also worked his way up the ladder in city government, but, all the while the idea of Latonia Bakery stayed fresh in his mind.

“It was one of those things where for years I said that somebody ought to,” Bales says. “After thinking about it for along time, I decided to go ahead and do it. I don’t really think I went back to my job after that. I went into early retirement almost immediately.

“We outgrew this building the day we opened. We consider ourselves a doughnut boutique rather than a full-scale bakery. We want to stay small enough that we can continue to have excellent customer service. That’s why we’re here.”

That excellent customer service is a key part of what Bales is after with Moonrise Doughnuts—providing the experience he’s grateful to have had as a Latonia native.

“There are so many great shops in Greater Cincinnati. We’ll never say we are the best doughnuts in town,” he says.“ We fill a particular need—an experience that consists of evening hours, a family-friendly atmosphere and extremely fresh doughnuts that were just made. I love that we get to know people by their first names and see kids experience what I experienced growing up in this neighborhood.”

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