Autumn arrived on Monday. But it really isn’t fall in Jacksonville until the first pumpkin doughnuts come out of the fryer and into the crisp, white bakery boxes at Cinotti’s.

At midnight Thursday, with temperatures at a balmy 80 degrees, fall “officially” began when several dozen customers packed into the Jacksonville Beach bakery to get a taste of the first batch of Cinotti’s famous pumpkin doughnuts of the season.

Read more from The Florida Times-Union here

First in line were sisters Kelsey Carter and Kayla Durden, lifelong Beaches residents who claimed their spots more than three hours before Cinotti’s opened its doors. (They were second in line last year among a crowd that numbered nearly 200.)

A few spots back were friends Jacque Ottosen and Cassi Nolen.

They made the trip from Orange Park to pick up three dozen pumpkin doughnuts each to share with coworkers later Friday morning.

“It’s tradition,” Nolen said. “It marks the start of the holiday season.”

Cinotti’s pumpkin doughnuts mark another important day for Ottosen: her wedding. That’s because her husband brought Cinotti’s pumpkin doughnuts to her and the wedding party on their wedding day 10 years ago this October.

So when the clock struck midnight Thursday, the four women were among the first to pick up their doughnuts during Cinotti’s annual “Pumpkin Donut Premier,” a one-hour event complete with free “I survived Cinotti’s 2019 Pumpkin Donut Midnight Release Party” T-shirts for the first 50 customers.

By 12:18 a.m., all of the customers in line at the bakery’s opening were served.

Some planned to eat just one of the pumpkiny treats before heading back home. Others, though, grabbed a table and used the occasion to finish off the entire box of doughy delights.

But at 1 a.m., the bakery closed its doors. And that’s when the real work began.

Because five hours later, Cinotti’s would open again for the real rush, when the first of hundreds of customers show up to claim pre-orders of 757 dozen doughnuts of the day-long event that has become known in recent years as Pumpkin Donut Friday.

Mike Cinotti, a co-owner along with his wife, Doodle, and two daughters, Melissa Cinotti Folette and Michelle Cinotti Vining, said they are preparing to make and sell 1,200 dozen pumpkin doughnuts on Friday alone.

At 11 p.m. Thursday, his nephew, Joe Cinotti (a fourth generation “fryer of all doughnuts”), was frying 45 dozen pumpkin doughnuts per hour in the bakery’s kitchen. After a generous glazing, the doughnuts were boxed up and stacked up in preparation for Friday’s rush.

For the expected 1,200 dozen doughnuts sold on Friday, Cinotti’s will use 1,000 pounds of flour, 1,600 pounds of pumpkin and 500 pounds of sugar, Mike Cinotti said.

And that’s just the first day. Cinotti’s offers its pumpkin doughnuts through Christmas Eve, when the family closes the shop for an annual vacation.

“On an off day, we’ll still sell 60 dozen pumpkin doughnuts,” Mike Cinotti said. That’s in addition to the regular lineup of doughnuts and breads the bakery makes each day for several Beaches-area sandwich shops.

The bakery dates back to 1936, when Mike Cinotti’s grandfather Nick opened the first Cinotti’s Bakery in Cleveland. In the mid 1950s, the family moved to Jacksonville, opening a bakery in San Marco in 1955 and another in Jacksonville Beach in 1964. Mike and Doodle Cinotti opened a sandwich shop at the Penman Road location in 1985 and added the bakery in 1990.

Though Cinotti’s has been a fixture in Jacksonville Beach for generations, its Pumpkin Donuts date back only about 15 years, co-owner Melissa Folette told the Times-Union. And the midnight release party, Michelle Vining’s idea, only dates back about five years.

“None of us wanted to do it at the time,” Melissa Folette said. “But it’s been a big success.”

Cinotti’s Bakery, located at 1523 Penman Road, is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (904) 246-1728 or go to cinottisbakery.com.