Cecilia and Shawn Wampole visited Anna Maria Island with their children in 2012 - and decided to make the popular Manatee County vacation spot home. Donuts proved to be the motivating force in that decision.

“We couldn’t believe there wasn’t a donut shop. It really started out as a joke … One thing led to another,” Shawn said.

The Wampoles both grew up in the Northeast, visiting beach towns with donut shops. They decided to open a shop on Anna Maria to enhance the local flavor.

“Diets, everything goes out the window when you’re on vacation, and it’s fun when you have your kids and your family … to come and get donuts,” Cecilia said. “That’s why we thought it would fit perfectly in a vacation spot.”

Enter: The Donut Experiment. The Wampoles sold their house outside of Philadelphia, quit their jobs and moved south. The Donut Experiment became a family affair.

Today that popular Anna Maria eatery has given way to franchises in Siesta Key, Cocoa Beach and Greenville, SC. A Clearwater Beach shop will open at 674 S Gulfview Blvd. this May. A second Tampa Bay area location is planned, but the couple isn’t ready to say when or where.

At The Donut Experiment, everything is made to order. You can hear the sizzle of frying dough. Customers select their icing flavors and toppings.

The Wampoles say the most popular donuts on Anna Maria include key lime, a Florida staple, maple bacon and caramel sea salt. The most unusual donut goes to the Sriracha, which is more savory than sweet, Cecilia says. It’s comprised of peanut butter, peanuts and Siracha. 

While tourists certainly love to grab a bite before heading to the beach, which is just down the road, locals have found a home at The Donut Experiment. That Anna Maria community reinforced the Wampoles decision to move to the island.

“You go to the grocery store, and chances are you’re going to see at least three or four people that you know,” Cecilia said. “It’s a lot of support in that small community. Our community has helped us build our business … It takes an island.”

“When we’re out of season, it’s our locals that support us and keep us going, and what’s not to love with the beaches here?”

Each Donut Experiment franchise offers guests a unique vibe, the Wampoles say. Still, family is at the center of the operation for the couple. The shop allows them more time with their three children.

“That’s part of why we ended up coming here in the first place … We wanted a better family life,” said Shawn, who worked as a police officer and missed plenty of holidays with his loved ones.

“Being here has allowed us to spend more time with our kids. We’re always home when our kids get off the bus. We take our kids to school in the morning,” Cecilia said.