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A sweet deal: Senior becomes doughnut ambassador

Edmonton senior Bessie Diggins sinks her teeth into new role.

Author Oscar Wilde is credited with saying: "The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole." If that's true, Edmonton senior Bessie Diggins is certainly an optimist.

Diggins has taken on a role any sweet tooth would envy: "Brand ambassador" for Destination Doughnuts, a shop on 124 Street in Edmonton's Westmount neighbourhood.

She was given the title by shop owner Arlyn Sturwold, who wanted to formalize a role for his most enthusiastic customer, whose persistent patronage continued even during the pandemic.

You can expect to see Diggins at the shop's only table every Sunday morning, talking up customers while sampling one of the 26 gourmet doughnuts on offer.

"I certainly appreciate getting out of the house," said Diggins, who lives just two blocks away in a home she shared with her husband until he died in January. "I'm a people person. I can pretty well talk to anybody."

No one within hearing distance could sit with glazed eyes while Diggins expounds on the merits of Destination's doughnuts. She is their biggest fan.

"Once you've had one taste of it, you go back for more," explained Diggins, adding no other doughnut shop she's been to compares.

Her favourite is the rhubarb fritter, although she's happily tried them all. On a recent Sunday she sampled the "S'mores" chocolate, cream and nut doughnut, the last item on the menu she had yet to try, which she enjoyed with a coffee. "I haven't found one yet I haven't liked," she confided.

Diggins says one couple from Grande Prairie comes to town twice a month and never miss visiting Destination Doughnuts. Another family recently placed a huge order for serving at a wedding as an alternative to wedding cake. 

Sturwold said Diggins has been one of his most loyal customers since he opened five years ago and she has always enjoyed talking with other customers.

The idea to name her brand ambassador came to him in the middle of the pandemic as a way to free up the senior to engage in conversations while giving her a regular routine.

"She is in every Sunday morning at 9:30 like clockwork," he said. "You can set your clock by her arrival--she takes it very seriously."

Before she retired, Diggins worked in retail sales. Sturwold says that experience probably helped nurture her natural, easygoing manner with strangers.

"She has a very kind presentation," Sturwold said. "It's amazing how many people will stop what they're doing and talk to her, not just about doughnuts but things in general."

While Diggins does offer advice about the menu, it is not a hard sell approach.

"She is not pushing doughnut sales," Sturwold added. "She's just talking to people and happens to be in a shop while people are buying doughnuts. Of course, she brags about Destination Doughnuts."

Sturwold says creating the brand ambassador position is a win-win for his business and for Diggins. While it helps promote his shop, it also provides Diggins with a routine doing something she enjoys, something he notes was lacking for many seniors during the pandemic. 

"It's been hard on them socially," he said. "I saw that it was really important to give her that opening, to be able to come out of her home once a week and feel free to talk to people.

"I'm like OK, I will give her this title, the position of brand ambassador, which means she's allowed to talk to anyone she wants to."

During a recent telephone conversation, Diggins made it clear how seriously she takes her brand ambassador position.

When a reporter arranged a time to show up at the shop to take her picture, she responded: "As long as it doesn't take too long," noting she has a job to do. Later at the shop, when the reporter followed her advice to sample the rhubarb fritter, she didn't hesitate.

"You'll be back," she stated confidently.