A Delray Beach investor came up with what he thought was a better idea: topless waitresses at his wife's doughnut shop. But a nearly year-long battle over adult entertainment, zoning permits and other issues, the costs were too great. It was the end of an aerola.

All Jerry Gallagher’s ex-wife wanted to do was open a doughnut shop with a retro twist, selling sinkers for 10 cents apiece.

“Remember the good old days when bus rides were 10 cents? Coffee was 10 cents?” read an ad in The Palm Beach Post. “Doughboy Donuts brings back 10-cent donuts.”

With a reported $40,000 investment and one middle-aged waitress, she debuted the shop in February 1986 at the Forest Hill Shopping Center in suburban West Palm Beach.

Nobody came.

So Gallagher took over, and figured out a better way to earn dough from doughnuts:

Topless waitresses.

And thus began the sticky saga of Palm Beach County’s only topless doughnut establishment ‒ a nearly year-long battle over adult entertainment, zoning permits, nudity vs. semi-nudity, and whether crullers could be considered sexual objects.

“They wear nothing above the waist but a bowtie and a smile,” the Post dutifully reported.

Gallagher, a Delray Beach investor, had soaped over the windows, and brought in three young, scantily clad servers, including some who had worked at a similar shop, R-Donuts in Fort Lauderdale, which is where he got the idea in the first place.

This time, Gallagher didn’t bother taking out an ad. He didn’t need to. On opening day, 150-200 men dropped by. “I don’t know how they knew,” Gallagher said.

Doughnuts were now selling for a buck, along with $3 for a hot dog and $4 for a sandwich. “We’re doing pretty good,” said a 19-year-old waitress, pointing to her garter stuffed with bills. “You’d think the guys would be obnoxious, but it’s not that way.”

One elderly patron was impressed when he and some pals dropped in for a take-out and look-see.

“Those girls were cute. Real dolls,” he told The Post. “Well, we’re off to the track. And you can’t use my name.”

Predictably, the idea of a topless doughnut shop quickly got messier than a glazed jelly. The shopping center owners demanded an immediate cover-up, saying the shop was violating its lease and discouraging family-oriented customers from visiting the plaza. County zoning officials declared that Doughboy Donuts was essentially adult entertainment, and needed a special permit.

About a week after opening, the shop got a call from a woman threatening “to blow up the place with everyone in it.”

“There are a lot of cuckoos around,” said cashier Shirley Setlock, who fielded the call. “Otherwise, everybody has been behaving. There’s been no touching and everyone is having a good time.”

To placate objections, waitresses began wearing sheer white, see-through blouses. But the shopping center owners and county zoning officials continued seeing red.

So in July, Gallagher tried a new ploy: He turned the shop into an adults-only private club, requiring a 25-cent membership card. And the waitresses took off their blouses again.

“It’s what our customers wanted,” Gallagher told the Miami Herald. “Every day, they keep asking, ‘Why can’t you go back to topless? Why can’t you go back to topless?’“

Suits and countersuits flew, with Gallagher claiming the shopping center was sabotaging the delivery of doughnuts. In August, a court hearing led to the spectacle of attorneys debating the semantics of nudity. According to a Herald story, an assistant county attorney declared that Doughboy could be a tipping point:

“If we allow him to have topless waitresses, we’ll have pizza shops with topless waitresses, Steak and Ale’s...all the way down the line.”

Judge Richard Wennet finally ruled that the shop was adult entertainment, requiring a special zoning permit. Gallagher was quickly going in the hole, and not the doughnut kind.

In September, the business filed for bankruptcy, saying it owed $12,000 to creditors. In January 1987, a judge was ready to approve the shopping center’s eviction efforts.

Gallagher made one more try, bringing in high-powered South Florida attorney Ellis Rubin to plead his case for what the Post described as “the constitutionality of bare breasts.”

“Waitresses are not entertainers under the state statutes, and doughnuts are not the object of sexual activities,” Rubin argued.

It didn’t matter. With mounting legal bills, Gallagher gave up, closing the shop in late January 1987. “I really don’t know what the big problem was,” he told the Post. “All we’ve ever done is serve doughnuts, coffee and sandwiches – and that’s it.”

Frank Cerabino, then writing for the Miami Herald, summed it up:

“The end of an areola has come for Doughboy Donuts.”

This story was written from the original reporting of former Post writers Scott G. Campbell, Greg Schwem, Todd Puster, Sallie James, Gary Kane, and Paul Blythe, as well as former Miami Herald reporters Frank Cerabino, Nick Ravo and Craig Gilbert.