Posted on 6/11/2023


Margaret ("Peg") Ryan Pilgrim is the owner of a charming two-bedroom, two-bathroom vacation rental cabin nestled on the picturesque Ski Mountain in Gatlinburg, TN. Peg's love for Gatlinburg runs deep in her family's veins, spanning across generations. Her parents are the proud founders of The Donut Friar, an iconic establishment that has become a beloved part of Gatlinburg's community since its inception in 1969. Having inherited her beautiful home from her father, Peg decided to give it a name that honors her special place within The Donut Friar family. Hence, "Friar's Fifth" became the perfect name. It pays homage to her position as the fifth child of the dynamic duo, James and Carolyn Ryan, whose Gatlinburg bakery still brings mouthwatering treats and heaps of joy to the Gatlinburg community today.

Having lived all over the country prior to landing in Gatlinburg, the Ryan family’s Gatlinburg fairy tale began when Peg's aunt and uncle made the bold decision to relocate to Gatlinburg in the 1950s, where they established the renowned Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen. Their relocation to the beautiful Smoky Mountains sparked a tradition of annual Ryan family vacations to visit them. During one of these visits, Peg's father, James, received a generous offer from Peg’s uncle, Dave, who was involved in building The Village in downtown Gatlinburg. Uncle Dave suggested that James consider opening his own business in the fast-growing city. Dave also allowed him the first pick of a storefront in the Village, along with the freedom to choose a product to sell. Realizing the potential for success, James took a leap of faith, accepted the offer, and decided on donuts. To prepare, he underwent training under a local baker in their current hometown of Cleveland, OH, mastering the art of creating mouthwatering, top-notch donuts.

In 1969, the Ryan family made the big move to Gatlinburg and opened The Donut Friar in The Village, conveniently located on Parkway in the middle of town. To this day, the store remains under the family’s ownership, proudly holding the title of the second-oldest continuously run food establishment in all of Sevier County. As a child, Peg practically grew up at the shop, spending just as much time there as she did at home. Her parents worked tirelessly to establish and maintain the business, instilling in Peg and her siblings a strong work ethic and making them active participants in the family enterprise.

Peg's mother, Carolyn Ryan, not only motivated her children to work hard, but she also formed deep connections with the employees at The Donut Friar. She treated them like family, often providing meals, late-night pizzas during their shifts, and her now famous Christmas cookies. The Ryan family's dedication extended beyond their business as they became committed members of the Gatlinburg community. James generously donated donuts to the Smoky Mountain Children's Home and Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, imparting manners to young students as they ordered their favorite treats by always requiring a “may I please” and a “thank you.” But James's philanthropic efforts didn't stop there. He dedicated over 25 years of his time to Habitat for Humanity, offering financial assistance and encouragement to those in need. His love and gratitude extended not only to his immediate family but also to the wider community he cherished. 

Although Carolyn and James eventually divorced after 35 years of marriage, Carolyn returned to the store after a couple of years and continued working until the impressive age of 89. James and Carolyn both passed away in 2021, marking the end of an era.

Today, The Donut Friar remains true to its roots, using the same machinery, products, and recipes James acquired during his apprenticeship. Only a select few chefs (fewer than ten in total) have had the privilege of baking in the store. They sign non-compete agreements to protect the trade secrets passed down through generations. The craft of donut making demands years of practice and unwavering dedication.

In recent years, the family business has faced significant challenges. With the passing of James and Carolyn, as well as the retirement of Peg's two older brothers, finding reliable employees and skilled bakers who can uphold the store's quality and traditions has proven to be quite a task. Nevertheless, they have persevered, keeping their doors open and serving hot, fresh donuts to locals and visitors alike, thanks to Peg’s sister moving back to Gatlinburg from Georgia to take over running the family business. 

Peg's father was a longtime owner of several properties in Chalet Village, including a spacious residence and five rental homes. Sadly, these properties were destroyed in the devastating fires of 2016. Needing to find another home in short order, Peg's father discovered and purchased the home that's now affectionately known as Friar's Fifth. This beloved Mountain Laurel Chalets home now belongs to its namesake, Peg. As Peg approaches retirement from her legal career in Michigan, she is excited about having more time to support her sister and contribute to the family's cherished donut business. Though it’s over 50 years into business, we know The Donut Friar’s success is far from over. We can’t wait to see how the business continues to thrive as part of Gatlinburg’s heritage.

Here at Mountain Laurel Chalets, we consider it an honor to manage and care for the incredible Friar’s Fifth, and to serve Peg and her entire family. The story of Friar's Fifth stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of a family deeply rooted in their love for Gatlinburg. We feel privileged to be a part of this remarkable journey.