You Might Not Know His Name; But Everyone Knew His ‘Sinkers’: William Scantlebury, Owner of Betty Ann’s, Dies at Age 65’

William J. Scantlebury, arguably the baker of the best donuts on the eastern seaboard, has died.

Scantlebury, who continued a 75 year old family tradition as the owner of Betty Ann Food Shop on the corner of Bennington and Moore Streets, died Monday, March 9 at the Haborlight Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in South Boston after a brief illness. He was 65 years old.

For 40 years Scantlebury owned, operated and was the chief baker of Betty Ann Food Shop whose famous hot donuts commanded a line that usually stretched down Bennington Street on weekend mornings. The bakery was first opened by his grandfather in 1931 and was continued by his father before Scantlebury took over in the 1970s.

“It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the passing of Billy Scantlebury, owner of Betty Ann Food Shop,” Betty Ann Food Shop said in a statement. “Billy was a friend to many and taught those who knew him best about the important and simple things in life. He fought a courageous battle and up until the very end thought about reopening the bakery and serving donuts to the community he loved so much. Heaven gained an angel today and one of the best bakers in the world.”

For many Eastie last June was like Christmas in the summer after the bakery reopened following a 13 month hiatus. Residents here had missed the famous homemade old-fashioned donuts known locally as ‘sinkers’.

When he reopened, Scantlebury said the first thing he did was have two donuts. Scantlebury had been battling an illness that sidelined him for over a year before reopening. Sadly Scantlebury, who would emerge from the kitchen with a cookie sheet overflowing with hot donuts every morning for decades, fell ill again this winter.

Betty Ann’s sinkers have been made the same way since the bakery opened in 1931.

Fans of the donuts would arrive early in the morning. The intoxicating aroma of the fresh batch would hit you like a punch in the nose.  There was something warm and cozy about that yeasty baked goodness similar to the smell of fried dough at a carnival that makes the lips pucker and the mouth water.

At 50 cents a donut or $6 a dozen the circles of bliss were stuffed in brown lunch bags and hauled away by patrons.

While Scantlebury made everything from pies to cookies to cupcakes and Boston Baked Beans on Saturdays, there were only five varieties of donuts–plain fried cake rings, crullers, yeasted rings, and the sinkers that are filled with either currant jelly or lemon. But that was more than enough.

There was a lot of care that went into these donuts, which were an old Scantlebury family recipe that hailed from Cornwall, England,

Scantlebury would be up every morning at 4 a.m. to get the massive coal fired oven going. The donuts dough would then be raised twice–once over

William J. Scantlebury

William J. Scantlebury

night and then again before they are fried. After a bath in hot oil, the donuts were shoved in the coal oven in order to give the yeast a little extra lift thus making perfect orbits of decadence.

The sinkers were then hand filled with the jelly or lemon, rolled in granular sugar and then laid out on wax-papered cookie sheets and distributed to the masses.

One bite of these donuts was enough to stop anyone from ever eating at a chain donut shop again.

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