When you open a neighborhood business, you think of long hours, familiar faces, and knowing customers' first names. You certainly don't imagine becoming such a fixture that your patrons stand next to you through your worst nightmare.
When Bill and Linda Sanders bought Roll 'n Donut in 1999, they couldn't predict the bonds their family would form with the community. When their daughter Michelle passed away a year and a half ago, the community showed its support in spades.
"We had a sign explaining we were closed for the funeral," said Linda. "The funeral home was packed. We were very grateful and so happy to see she touched so many lives."
That's what happens when a business means more to people than just a place to spend money. And in this town, Roll 'n Donut has the seniority on almost every other establishment.
After serving Elgin for decades, Roll 'n Donut moved to its current home at 1315 Dundee Ave. in 1993. And when Bill decided to step away from the automobile industry, he and his wife eyed the humble donut shop for the next step in their lives.
"She wanted an outlet for her cakes and cookies," said Bill. After a back injury, Bill, an employee of Chrysler for 30 years, was moved from the maintenance department to an office position handling warranties.
"I was stuck in a room with no windows," he said. "I didn't know what to do, and we found this. So we went for it." Now 56, he concedes it was a good decision. "It's probably one of the best jobs I've ever had."
The couple met in 1978 at the North End Tap, and have since moved to West Dundee. While most couples might think it's pure madness to own and operate a business with your spouse, the Sanders have avoided trouble ... for the most part.
"She only flipped me off and walked out once in 12 years," laughed Bill. "I remember that," added Linda without even a hint of remorse. "Other than that, pretty smooth."
It certainly would take a special relationship to handle getting up at 2:30 a.m. every day to be in by 4:30. Not to mention that the shop stays open until noon, and the day doesn't end until around 2:00 p.m. But the Sanders know what Roll 'n Donut means to people.
"We took an unannounced day off one Sunday, and people were there Monday morning to let us hear about it," said Bill. "We are the morning stop for a lot of people." But being in Roll 'n Donut five minutes shows you that it's more than just a stop on the road. The booths and counter are full of patrons sipping coffees, nibbling on donuts, and talking about any subject under the sun. They come early, and they stay past closing time if the conversation is good.
"We're like a bar without the alcohol," said Linda. "People pour their hearts out with us. We talk together, laugh together, even cry together."
It's not hard to see why people form a bond with the place. After five minutes inside, a visitor feels like they belong. You'll be asked about your day, your work, anything you want to vent about. Modest interiors and oldies on the stereo serve as a time machine, transporting customers back to an era where Starbucks gift cards, Bluetooth headsets and minimum human contact go out the window. This is a home away from home, a familiar setting where you're always welcome and you never forfeit your familiarity.
"We have a list of what we call 'lifetime members,'" said Linda. "Some people have eaten Roll 'n Donut for decades, and they still come in in their 70s." But it's not just people who have a craving for the early morning fare. On a number of occasions, people in the neighborhood have found their missing dogs sitting outside Roll 'n Donut, wagging their tails waiting patiently for the Sanders to get in and distribute the biscuits Linda gives dogs who visit with customers.
When tomorrow's sun creeps into your window to announce the day's arrival, instead of heading to a chain drive-through, leave the house ten minutes early and give Roll 'n Donut a try. You may just be taking a first step toward a lifetime membership in Elgin's oldest family. Just don't bring your dog unless you're willing to let it lead you there every morning.