GARNER — Daylight Donuts elected to rescind its licensing agreement with J's Delicious Daylight Donuts in Garner days after it opened when it learned of the business owner’s 2010 conviction for molesting a 14-year-old boy.
Randy Robertson said the new shop had done great business in its first week after a July 1 soft opening. He said many customers had remarked that they had read about his past and decided to come anyway.
But a letter dated July 3 from Daylight Donuts vice president of licensing Jason Bond questioned his ability to operate the business legally and said the company was “concerned about the threat (the publicity) poses to our reputation and the business success of our current licensees system wide.” It indicated that it had not “fully executed” the agreement and would not do so, citing logistical obstacles created by Robertson’s probation and negative publicity.
The company’s licensing arrangements allow store owners to operate independently and use the brand on the condition that owners buy proprietary ingredients and use recipes from Daylight. There is no requirement to share revenue or even report sales figures.
The letter requests he return any proprietary ingredients as well as branded materials such as packaging. It also requests Robertson cease using the name “Daylight Donuts” in any fashion.
Robertson said he has been exploring legal options and has not received a formal cease-and-desist, but said he’s not likely to want to work with people who turned on him so quickly. He has been working on assembling other recipes to continue business without Daylight.
The Wake County district attorney’s office and Garner police determined that Robertson’s plans did not violate terms of his probation. Those terms bar him from interacting with children 16 years old and younger; he was to cook the donuts and keep the books while staying away from customer interaction. He is also subject to lifetime ankle monitoring and cannot leave Wake County until the end of probation in December 2015.
“I feel said terms (of probation) inhibit, restrict and generally hinder your ability to operate a Daylight Donut shop as contemplated in the agreement,” Bond said in the letter.
Later he said: “I realize you have an investment in the ‘Daylight’ branded inventory you currently possess, and that you must make a living” and offered to “assist you within reason by replacing your current inventory” with non-proprietary ingredients and non-branded packaging materials. He said undamaged products would be bought back.
The letter said Robertson should have disclosed his situation, but the company does not run background checks on owners and there was no indication that a criminal history was requested. Bond did not respond to requests for comment.
Robertson was convicted of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old boy in 2010 at Garner United Methodist Church. He spent 15 weekends in jail. His other conviction occurred in 1980, when he was 18.
He married his wife Stacey in 2011 and the two have a child that turns three next month. He said he developed a passion for baking through culinary classes at Wake Tech, where he taught from 2001 to 2008. He said he accepts responsibility for his crime and recognizes the damages he’s caused, but hopes to be able to make a living for his family. The couple has poured $200,000 – savings and loans from family and friends – into the business start up.
After the article noting his past convictions was published, reaction has included people upset that he was allowed to open a shop at all as well as others supportive of his efforts.
The letter from Daylight cites concern from other local Daylight owners along with the negative publicity. At the Triangle’s two other Daylight shops the response was mixed as well.
Denise Less owns one in Wake Forest and firmly supported Robertson. She said based on the daily baking schedule it would be perfectly plausible for him to avoid customer interaction that would violate probation, contrary to one justification Daylight’s letter used to cancel the arrangement. She said choosing this particular business made sense for him.
As for bad publicity, she said the story has had no affect on her business, and if anything customers have expressed support for Robertson.
“The whole thing is horrible,” Less said. “He went through the channels he was supposed to go to, he was approved by the system. They said it was OK.”
She said she asked Daylight to wait before acting when the company called her multiple times about the matter. She said she didn’t condone his crime, but expressed sympathy for Robertson given the difficulty of being hired as a felon.
“Isn’t that a God thing? To provide for his family?” Lull said.
Brian Van Norman, who owns a Daylight Donuts shop in North Raleigh, expressed more concern, though he said he didn’t receive any complaints or see a decline in business in the days after the story broke.
“(The publicity) is an eyesore for Daylight, and hopefully it gets amended. From my perspective I’m hoping it doesn’t affect my bottom line in the long run,” Van Norman said. “They say no publicity is bad publicity, but I don’t think that’s particularly true.”
Psychologists who deal with sexual misconduct have said studies indicate most violators don’t fit the predator mold feared by many. And, they note that studies indicate public sex registries and a witch-hunt mentality do more harm than good and spread misleading information.
Robertson said the store generated more than $500 in sales on its first day despite not having a grand opening and the publicity surrounding his conviction, and steadily averaged about as much throughout the week. Many have shown support, he said.
“I’ve had letters, I’ve had phone calls, I’ve had cards. A good majority of people who came into the store said ‘I read what was in the paper, it’s terrible and I don’t believe it (was published),’” Robertson said.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland