Doughnut-maker marks 50 years in shop she now owns
Irene Deubel of Santa Fe started as baker
SANTA FE, N.M. — When Irene Deubel of Santa Fe began working at Dunkin’ Donuts on St. Francis Drive in 1972, a cup of coffee cost just 15 cents and a donut ran a dime.
Richard Nixon was president, "The French Connection" won an Oscar for best picture, Santa Fe County had fewer than 60,000 residents and the U.S. had scored a milestone victory three years earlier in its space race with the Soviet Union. The Beatles’ breakup was fresh in fans’ minds.
Many things have changed dramatically, including the county’s population, which was about 150,000 as of 2020. The business’s name has also changed to simply Dunkin’. But one constant has been Deubel’s tireless efforts to keep patrons caffeinated and fed — a demanding task that has required 12- to 14-hour days stretched across a half-century.
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On Wednesday, Deubel — now the store’s sole owner — marked 50 years of working at the establishment on St. Francis Drive, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
"I started out as the finisher — prepping the doughnuts, filling the doughnuts, and of course if they were busy in front, I would go to assist them," she said Sunday. "A couple of years after I started, we started making sandwiches."
Fritz Amelunxen was the store’s owner when Irene started, and she described him as tough but kind. A dozen doughnuts cost 99 cents back then — tax included, she said.
Her rise through the ranks began, appropriately, with baking.
Deubel, now 71, said she was offered a raise of 25 cents an hour if she’d take on baking duties — a core task at the business that she had feared she was too short, at 5-foot-1, to tackle.
"The uniform for men was a pink shirt and a bow tie," she said of Dunkin’ Donuts employee attire in the early 1970s. "The girls, we would wear dresses as a uniform. … I used to have to stand at the baking table on my tiptoes so I could bake. We used to roll and cut by hand. Now everything’s automated. The bakers I have now, I tell them about (the manual work), and they think it’s impossible."
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Deubel was named the store’s assistant manager in 1975.
"Then it was a little tougher," she said. "I knew what (Fritz) wanted; he wanted me to deal with all the problems."
One of those problems was dealing with Fritz, Deubel suggested, adding she told her husband, Chris Deubel, when they married in 1979 that she’d be working overnight shifts as a result.
"I used to like graveyard — 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.," she said. "That was probably my favorite shift when I was young."
Of course, working overnight had its drawbacks — including safety concerns. Irene described the haunting sound of a robber’s pistol slapping against a table as he asked her to put money in a bag.
Also, people experiencing homelessness would congregate in and around the open business after dark, she said.
"I could not bear sometimes to know someone was sleeping outside with the (cold) weather we had," Irene said. "When we were (open) 24 hours, you’d have to go wake up the homeless. I don’t know if I would ever open it back up 24 hours. It’s just too difficult. Some people, when they get intoxicated, then you have to battle with them, and it’s too difficult."
The overnight shift still exists, daughter Jaquie Deubel said, but it involves preparation now and not serving customers.
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After decades of being open 24 hours a day, the store began closing by 10 p.m. amid the pandemic.
Whether the store returns to a 24-hour service schedule might end up being a new owner’s decision, Irene Deubel said.
"Last year was the year that I really started contemplating that we need to get rid of the store," she said, adding, "I still enjoy coming to work, but I know the time is coming … I’d like some relaxation."
Irene Deubel became the store’s co-owner in 2005 and its sole owner in 2013. When it comes to a possible sale, she said that a developer has the right of first refusal on the site, and she hadn’t heard from him recently.
Irene Deubel’s perspective of a changing Santa Fe stretches back to her childhood.
"My grandmother and grandfather lived on St. Francis Drive, but back then it was called something different," she said. "My grandfather would tell me, ‘It’s going to be a highway.’ When you’re little, you say, ‘I don’t think so.’ "
Despite her prolonged and intensive exposure to doughnuts, Irene Deubel said she can still eat them. But she prefers candy, adding she always has it in the store.
Jaquie Deubel, 50, said her mother still works 12-hour shifts, while her daughter works 12 to 14 hours at a time. It’s not as challenging as it sounds, she said.
"We’re so busy. Time flies," Jaquie Deubel said. "For example, like last week, we had three people call out (sick) on Sunday. I knew my mom was in trouble. I got my uniform and went down and helped them out. I was there for seven hours. Never took a lunch, never took a break, never went to the bathroom. … Before you know it, it’s like, wow. Your shift is over."
That said, responsibilities can pile up. Jaquie Deubel described having to work recently when the person working the overnight shift called in sick, then having to deliver doughnuts the next morning.
"You just do what you have to do and get through it," she said, adding both she and her mother work three days in a row, then have three consecutive days off.
"I don’t even leave the house the first day (off) because I’m literally trying to recuperate," Jaquie Deubel added.
Jaquie Deubel said she has tons of respect for her mother’s accomplishments but doesn’t plan to follow in her footsteps. Because mother and daughter have been an integral part of the restaurant’s operations for years, they’ve had limited opportunities to spend time around each other outside of work.
Irene Deubel looks forward to that changing.
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"I tell (Jaquie) that when we sell this store, we’re going to have a nice dinner, the entire family," she said. "And we won’t have to worry about anything bad happening."
Irene Deubel has two other children, Jolene Lujan and Justin Deubel, both in Santa Fe.
Store employee Elmer Hernandez credited Irene Deubel for understanding the importance of family and being flexible when emergencies arise, as well as for treating employees well. He also said he learned about the importance of maintaining a good relationship with customers from her, among other things.
"She is a very good teacher," said Hernandez, who has worked at the store for 14 years. "She explains things very well. She knows everything about the store."
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Jaquie Deubel, meanwhile, said she gets compliments on her friendliness, which she said is a byproduct of the work.
"You’re the face of somebody’s business," she said. "I always tell that to my kids: ‘This is Grandma’s business; I have to do a great job.’ "