By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]
As a child, Jennifer Dembek, a Sunnyside resident of 48 years, would sometimes be greeted with donuts from her grandmother after school. The donuts came from Alpha Donuts, a community staple where Dembek said she could always find a good meal, a friendly face and great service. Dembek is one of many Sunnyside residents with fond memories of the shop, which is closing its doors after 48 years of serving the neighborhood.
“I grew up with this place which was great, it’s a staple in the neighborhood that we’re losing,” Dembek said. “I’m sad to hear that it’s closing.”
The beloved donut spot, which has been gutted of its insides and now sits empty on 45-16 Queens Blvd., is closing due to financial difficulties caused by inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to owner Patty Zorbas. Zorbas, who left the shop on Friday, has been running the business for the past 30 years.
“I gave so much of myself to this place,” Zorbas said. “It was a pleasure, all these years, it meant so much to me.”
Throughout its nearly 50 years in business, Alpha Donuts remained a family operation, according to Zorbas. She said that before she took over the shop, her sister-in-law had been in charge of the business, and before that her husband, who has since passed, was running it.
“This was my baby,” Zorbas said. “I have so many beautiful memories, it breaks my heart that I have to go.”
Yesnia Rumaldo, a friend of Zorbas’ who works in a nearby jewelry shop, said that she has gone to Alpha Donuts every morning for the past 24 years and is saddened to see it close.
“This is the only place that you could come, where you find somebody friendly, always with a smile on their face, doesn’t matter what,” Rumaldo said. “They were always ready for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got money or if you don’t have money.”
Alpha Donuts is not the only small business in Sunnyside to have been hit hard by the pandemic. Three years ago, KMIA Salon, once located in the building to the right of Alpha Donuts, also closed due to financial struggles brought on by COVID-19.
Food service and retail establishments were more affected by COVID-19 compared to other businesses, remaining below pre-pandemic levels even when many industries were beginning to bounce back, according to a report released by the New York City Comptroller last year.
Anne Smyth, who has lived in Sunnyside for 35 years and was a frequent customer of the donut shop, said that she has noticed businesses closing more frequently in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been here 35 years and it was the freshest coffee, food — everything,” Smyth said. “The whole neighborhood is so nice and Sunnyside has gone down so much. They’re taking away everything, rent is far too high, they’re bringing everything down. It’s not fair.”
Smyth added that Alpha Donuts was a common gathering spot for older Sunnyside residents, and said she is concerned about where they will go now that the shop is closed.
“They go in there, they have a cup of coffee, their cup of tea, they can sit there, they can have a toast or whatever they want,” Smyth said. “It’s gone, there’s nowhere else to go for them. It’s absolutely dreadful.”