A head taller than his new co-workers, Rick Scott leaned over the glass counter at Nicola’s Donuts and Bakery. • “Our job is to sell out all these doughnuts,” he said, fidgeting with his bakery-issued black cap, looking at rows of maple glazed, double chocolate and vanilla iced. • “We need lots of people to buy these doughnuts,” he repeated.
On the other side of the room, a bank of video cameras watched the still empty shop. Reporters, there were so many, almost blocked the door to get in.
For three hours early Wednesday, Gov. Scott set aside matters of state to sell pastries — reviving an idea from former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to spend time working alongside typical Floridians … and to have the news media eat it all up.
“Workdays” began as a gimmick to launch Graham’s 1978 gubernatorial bid but grew into a signature piece of his career.
Scott announced this week that he would try the idea himself as part of a series of changes to repackage himself to Florida voters.
Nicola’s on N Dale Mabry was a natural place to start — Scott bought and once ran a pair of doughnut shops in Kansas City in the 1970s. He wants to try a new job about once a month.
Time to make the . . .
Scott baked and glazed dozens of doughnuts overnight Tuesday, then returned at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday to work the counter.
“If you keep asking people what they like, they’ll keep buying doughnuts,” Scott instructed the staff, noting that he tripled sales at his doughnut shop.
Customers ducked and dodged the TV cameras to make their way to the front of the small shop, where Scott boxed doughnuts priced at $7.75 a dozen for nearly 100 people. He chatted up customers, telling them that he’s going to be a grandfather or that his daughter is a teacher. He talked to men in baseball shirts about throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, and to a guy in Florida Gators gear about a Florida State game he saw.
“Five of each, one sprinkled, one cream-filled,” ordered Eric Hothem, 44, of Tampa, who brought his 10-year-old daughter Annberlee to meet the governor. “Thanks, sir.”
When Scott asked Annberlee a question, she was scared to answer and grabbed her dad.
Scott Sellers, 47, of Tampa came to buy doughnuts and to lobby the governor on a bill that would require pool owners to purchase more expensive pool motors. Sellers, a pool repairman, said his customers couldn’t afford the extra $400-$500 cost.
Scott jotted down a few notes, said he would look into it and then signed Sellers’ doughnut sack — “Let’s Get to Work!”
About two dozen protesters gathered outside the shop for much of the morning. Some of them came inside.
Susannah Randolph, wife of state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, and creator of a statewide anti-Scott group called “Pink Slip Rick,” waited in line.
She ordered a pink sprinkled doughnut then spun to face Scott and handed him a symbolic pink slip. “I’d like to give you this pink slip on behalf of all the jobless Floridians,” Randolph said.
Scott answered calmly, “We’re heading in the right direction. We’re not there yet.”
When more protesters ordered more pink sprinkled doughnuts, Scott said, “I’m glad you’re buying doughnuts.”
He then turned to his fellow workers, including owner Rachel Waatti: “We should have made more pink last night.”
History of workdays
Graham’s workdays weren’t always exciting.
“Most people are a lot less interested in political issues than we are,” said Graham, who tried 405 jobs until he retired from the U.S. Senate in 2005.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Graham remembered precise details about almost every assignment.
Graham was shooed off a homeowner’s lawn while working for the property appraiser in Clearwater, kept track of which down it was at a Florida State-Florida football game and played Santa Claus once in Miami.
Of all the jobs, Graham doesn’t necessarily have a favorite, but his wife, Adele, prefers his 100th workday as a Tampa homemaker. Her lone quibble, he says, is that cameras got video of Graham tossing cigarette butts from an ashtray down the toilet.
“She was quite offended that I’d be so gross to dump cigarettes down the toilet,” said Graham, now 74. “I thought it was a pretty efficient way to get rid of them.”
Scott’s revival of the workdays is his latest attempt to recast himself to Florida voters.
Changes started in April, when Scott reversed himself on substantive issues such as erasing his spending cuts for the care of disabled Floridians and dropping his opposition to a prescription drug database.
On Monday, he allowed reporters into his Tallahassee office for the first time. Scott now plans to meet with newspaper editorial boards — another first — and even changed the way he dresses. A more casual open collar and khakis have replaced his suit and tie. On Wednesday, he wore a black button-down shirt with the state seal and his name on it.
Future workdays will re-create his former jobs, like selling groceries and working on a Navy ship. One likely won’t happen though: cleaning phone booths. A Verizon spokesman said phone booths left the state years ago.
‘What can I get you?’
By the end of the morning, Nicola’s had sold every doughnut it had — more than 80 dozen. At its second location, 120 dozen more could go, said Waatti, the owner.
While impressive, the numbers underscore the difficulty of running a small business.
At $7.75 a dozen, that’s around $1,600 for the day (not including coffee sales). That has to cover 14 employees, two locations and the cost of ingredients.
“We have to help our local companies be successful,” Scott told reporters. “We need everybody to buy lots of doughnuts.”
Nicola’s employees never strayed far from Scott’s side. But as a few were scrambling to find more doughnuts or taking out the trash, Scott stood alone at the counter shortly before 7:30 a.m.
A man walked in to place an order.
“Hi, how are you?” said Scott, extending his right hand. “What can I get you?”
Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.