Fritter Fight

A man's Donut House is his castle

Homer Simpson would be horrified. The ever-vigilant City of Mesa has targeted Winchell's Donut House franchisee Edward Salib for daring to put pictures of doughnuts in his windows. The giant glossies of glazed rounds that once stared out from Salib's shop at Country Club and Main are no more, thanks to a new law restricting the size of signage in downtown businesses. Although Salib was assured that his 18-year-old store's pastry pictures were exempt, the city was apparently talking out its doughnut hole. Now, the city wants them down, and Salib is planning to sue.

Salib has a lot to say on the subject, but never, ever with his mouth full of beignet. After we part company, I sit for a long time at the bar at Barcelona, staring into my Manhattan and wondering: If a man can't stand for photographs of doughnuts, what can he stand for?

New Times: Why is this happening to you?

Deep-fried resentment: Edward Salib doesn't appreciate Mesa's sign police.
Kevin Scanlon
Deep-fried resentment: Edward Salib doesn't appreciate Mesa's sign police.

Edward Salib: I have no idea. You just go down the street and you see signs in every other business window. I have no idea why Mesa is doing this and why they come up with this, how do you call it, grandfather in, grandfather out.

NT: Right, because your window signage was grandfathered in after the city passed a new law in 1999 that said that large signs couldn't be posted in windows.

Salib: Yes. This store has been here for 18 years, and they show up one day and say we no longer be grandfathered in. Because we change the signs for our specials for the month. There was one day a sign with a doughnut picture, and next day there's a sign with a picture of a doughnut with sprinkles. And the city shows up and says, "You have to take it down. No more signs." Why?

NT: Maybe someone at the City of Mesa has it in for sprinkles.

Salib: They say the signs in windows can only take up only so much of the window, but they don't say what size window. It's a mystery. The size of the sign is wrong? I don't decide the size of the signs, they come from Winchell's. It's a chain; all Winchell's get the same signs.

NT: How do they expect you to sell bear claws if you can't put signs up?

Salib: This same question you ask me, I ask the city. How can I communicate with my people, the people who buy doughnuts, when there are no signs saying, "Come in here and buy this doughnut"? And the reply was, "You must do this in the newspaper." But how many people are looking in the newspaper for doughnuts?

NT: I couldn't say.

Salib: And these people who say to buy the ads, they forget that I am paying Winchell's franchise fees for advertising. Advertising is a combined thing, you have an ad on the TV, you have an ad in the newspaper, and you have most important an ad in your window with a big picture of a doughnut. Which I think the city does not want.

NT: Why does the city care about what kind of signs you put in your window?

Salib: The major excuse is that the police cannot see inside to see for the safety of the people inside. That argument doesn't hold water, because there are places with windows that are completely covered.

NT: So if a person were choking on a jelly-filled or trying to steal a dozen Boston creams, the police would want to be able to look in your window and see this.

Salib: I think they have too much time on their hands. I have no other conclusion. Too much time, too much money, too much attention on people who didn't do nothing. And why they target me, especially among other people, and why they watch me like a hawk instead of other people's business? Across the street, Bailey's Brakes, his land and my land here is what the city calls the gateway for the City of Mesa. And that's why they are looking at my store so closely.

NT: Wait. So you think that the city is trying to run you out of business so they can place a more upscale business here?

Salib: My lawyer would not like for me to say this. There's no doubt that the city has named this intersection as the gateway into downtown.

NT: This isn't about doughnuts.

Salib: It's about letting me communicate with my customers. A business is a mute thing. The building cannot speak without signs in its windows. If you take my signs, I am left with no voice.

NT: You want this building to shout out "maple twists!" So, what about your First Amendment rights?

Salib: My freedom of expression has been taken away. I don't see justice in this. In the long run, it will affect my income. If you look into my doughnut case at 2:00, you will see many doughnuts just waiting. This is because people do not know that they are specially priced after 12:00. We used to have a sign up that said this. Today you will look and see many wasted doughnuts. Why?

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