Friday, June 16, 2017

Irish Maid - The Story of Two Arkansas Doughnut Shops.

Irish Maid is a beloved named in doughnuts for two very different Arkansas towns. Find out where this homegrown pastry brand came from, and where it's gone to since.

Some folks who happen to pass through both Pine Bluff and Fort Smith may think Irish Maid Donuts is a franchise, and they'd be justified for thinking so. After all, the two towns are about four hours driving time in distance, and they serve two very different communities.

But it's not a franchise. Irish Maid started out in the same family tree.

Irish Maid traces its lineage back to two brothers, Frank and Jim Claghorn, who lived in Little Rock. The brothers baked doughnuts and sold them door to door.

Frank ended up moving to Fort Smith, where he started Irish Maid Donuts in 1960. Jim moved to Pine Bluff and started up the identically named shop in 1961.

At first, both made every one of their items by hand, from the famed maple bars to apricot fillings to the decadent Bavarian cream. Eventually both of them hired help. The both got married, too. Today, the Fort Smith shop is run by the Adairs—Frank’s daughter’s kids.

Jim ran the Pine Bluff shop until 1988, when he
finally sold to a couple who had worked with him some time, Steve and Cheryl Grinstead. The two are the shop’s only employees; they start each evening at 10:00 p.m. and work through until 10:00 a.m. the next day, or whenever they run out of pastries.

The shop is small, but it has its share of regulars who have been coming in at least once a week for decades. The vanilla cream-filled doughnuts are marvelous, and in my humble opinion, there is no finer maple bar in the state.

The only problem is, Irish Maid in Pine Bluff closes so early. The two-person operation is done at 10 a.m. each day, and if you're late you'll just find yourself staring at the glass door, feeling like a bit of an idiot. Which yes, it's happened to me more than once in my life. More than twice, actually.

But in Fort Smith, that's not the case. The Adairs have a joint on Towson. The hours are erratic, thanks to the 24-hour, three shift city the bakeries serve. But when you can get a lemon fill, get one. Or whatever else tickles your fancy.

Grav and I dropped in last week to pick up some doughnuts for the family. We went to the Towson Avenue location, which is in a strip mall. When I first visited, it was across the street in a stand-alone location. From what I've gathered, it's moved around a lot.

Even though we were coming in at the end of the morning, there were still quite a few choices to enjoy, including chocolate glazed, a variety of filled doughnuts, apple fritters,
cinnabuns and more. Grav was attracted to an unusual combination (in my book) - a large doughnut topped with maple frosting, pecans and chocolate chips.

Me? I was all about a pecan-topped cinnamon roll. The praline-like topping was marvelous on its own, but paired with that cinnamon roll, it was over the top.

When we returned to the house, Hunter magnetically approached that cinnabun, and managed to make it disappear quite quickly. I should have taken a photo of that.

The chocolate glazed doughnuts, though. I've been a lot of places that make doughnuts around the state and I am surprised there aren't more. Irish Maid takes their pliant, slightly sweet dough and adds cocoa to it before baking. That's all. But that simple note makes a difference. And best of all, they make chocolate doughnut holes, which are incredibly addictive. No, really, I inhaled more than I should have.

So the doughnuts are great. But there's another interesting thing about Irish Maid in Fort Smith. It's open some weird hours. It's open at 4 a.m. every morning and closes at 11 a.m, every morning. On Friday and Saturday nights, it opens at 6 p.m. instead. You can have a doughnut at 2 a.m., fresh and hot, in Fort Smith. Excellent.

I've been trying to get in touch with the Grinsteads to find out what's happening in Pine Bluff - I understand there have been some health issues which have meant they've been able to open every day. I'm hoping for the best for them.

Now you know the connection between the two Irish Maids.

You'll find the Pine Bluff Irish Maid Do-Nut Shop at 2320 South Blake. The phone number there is (870) 879-9920. Be sure to get there before 10 a.m., but never on Sunday. And remember, it's cash only.

You'll find Fort Smith's Irish Maid Donuts at 4600 Towson Avenue. That phone number is (479) 646-5337 and there's a Facebook page, too.

When in Pine Bluff, check out:

When in Fort Smith, look up these great places:

Irish Maid Do-Nut Shops Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Irish Maid Donuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  1. I use to love working in my sister and brother-in-law's Irish Maid Donut Shop in Van Buren back in the 70's. Dennis Carter was my brother-in-law. His dad owned Irish Maid Donuts in Little Rock. His mom's name was Sue Carter. And I always thought that his uncle that owned the one in Fort Smith was Frank Carter. Irish maid donut recipe makes the best donuts I've ever tasted. That was my first introduction to buttermilk Donuts. I miss those days, I had a lot of fun spending the Summers there.
    Eugene Johnson.

  2. I know you wrote this a few years ago but you forget there was a sister Margie Carter the sister Frank and James she ran the one in Little Rock for 50 yrs how do I know I'm the grandson of Margie Carter I grow up in the one in Little Rock

  3. Can i order some to ship to California my husband would die if i surprised him with the only donut he said he will ever love

  4. We live in stockton ca any chance to have them shipped

  5. Old Towson location for years for Frank and they let me help out sometime it sure was a family business but the ones that work for them are like family too they tore the first one down and put a hospital there but the other ones down there by Phoenix I like to know who owns it now


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