Women Long a Power Behind the Donuts

The donut shop that is a household word in the Bayou Region bears the name of a man. But long before equal opportunity for women was a “thing” the family business made use of all its members regardless of gender. And while “Mr. Ronnie” Picou held the throne of Houma Donut King, his wife and daughter played a key role in the company’s success and continue to do so.

“We each have our own little part,” said Wendy Picou, the 53-year-old co-owner of Mr. Ronnie’s Hot Donuts on Tunnel Boulevard, a business expanding this week into the St. Charles Parish community of Boutte. Her role in the family business began in 2005, and she has worked hard at it ever since. Critical injuries suffered when she was struck by an automobile have, she acknowledges, slowed down her body. But the physical issues have not shaken her enthusiasm.

“I have done everything,” she said. “Hiring, ordering, operations, managing and some payroll,” Wendy said, when asked about her share of the duties. “My mom still does a lot of the bookwork.”

Brother Kellen Picou’s talents tend toward the systems used in the operations, Wendy said, and her brother Bud is unmistakably the outfit’s donut man.

But Wendy’s jack-of-all-trades role extends to many different areas, although she herself is modest about her contributions. Like her mother and siblings, Wendy finds it hard to talk about the business without paying proper homage to her father, whose vision while operating a Tastee Donut franchise on Barrow Street years ago for restauranteur Al Copeland led eventually to the opening of the Tunnel Boulevard site and its mouth-watering offerings.

The Terrebonne High School graduate says she owes every positive attribute she has to her parents.

“I am so honored,” she said. “I feel like I am privileged to have had a dad that worked so hard and taught us how to work. My mom has taught us the fine details of everything. This lady, she is a genius at what she does. She pays attention to every single detail.”

A key area of Wendy’s responsibilities involves the hired help. She is the first to acknowledge that neither herself nor any other personnel manager can be right all the time. But she tries hard — without a crystal ball — to determine how applicants will work out on the job. Because the business is family owned, employees are required to guard the Mr. Ronnie’s reputation for quality and cleanliness by being self-starters.

“The donut business is so unique and different, especially our donut business,” Wendy said. “Someone can be really good in an interview and you think they are going to do a good job but they don’t. Some people I hire on the idea that they may turn out okay and they turn out to be awesome.”

Common sense, Wendy says, is what she looks for in employees once they are on the job, along with the ability to work hard and not wait to be told what has to be done.

“When you see something that needs to be done, you do it because it needs to be done,” Wendy explained. “If there’s an empty pan of donuts, refill it. The counter is dirty, let me clean it. Some people just walk right by. Our motto is ‘quality, service and friendliness.’”

Devotion to the needs of customers and well-displayed courtesy, therefore, is another big requirement for people who remain working under Wendy on the Mr. Ronnie’s team.

“People have to ask ‘what can I get for you’, it’s the personal touches that they bring, each employee, to give the customer service,” Wendy said. “We don’t need people who have robotics. You are more than that when you are here. We want to keep the ones that care, who know the proper way to box and bag the donuts. Everything is important, from making the coffee to making the donuts and everything in between.”

Wendy said what she and other members of the family management team expect of employees is nothing less than what they expect of themselves.

A few Mondays ago, on Lundi Gras, Wendy worked the full graveyard shift meeting crushing needs from hungry Carnival revelers. The work was hard and she was tired as can be imagined on Fat Tuesday. Nonetheless, she said, she wouldn’t trade the good feelings that come from a job well done. This Carnival season was bittersweet as it was the first year she and other relatives worked without the presence of their patriarch and mentor.

“There were some tears,” she acknowledged, before giving a final assessment of the dedication she shares with other family members.

“We have always been hands on and none of us would do it differently,” Wendy said. “We care. This is our family business and it is my dad’s name and legacy that we want to keep alive.” •