By Tim Gaynor
(Reuters) - As fans readied to see how chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White would meet his end in the tense finale of "Breaking Bad" on Sunday night, one Albuquerque donut maker had a rush of customers on her hands.
"It was insane," said Carrie Mettling, the co-owner of the city's Rebel Donut chain, which sold $10,000 worth of its blue frosted and crystal rock candy-slathered "blue sky" donuts in the hours before showtime. "Our sales were probably quadruple what they are on a normal Sunday."
The local business is among many in the wake of the runaway success of AMC's "Breaking Bad" - a show both set and produced in Albuquerque, New Mexico - whose profit margins have been so good lately they are almost criminal.
The chain, whose donuts are named for Walt's top-notch "blue sky" methamphetamine, is among several Albuquerque businesses that have felt a rush to their bottom line with the success of the Emmy-winning show
"Breaking Bad" has enjoyed a surge in viewers in the past year, as an average of 5.2 million people tuned into the last half of the fifth and final season to see cancer-stricken Walt complete his metamorphosis from a mild-mannered high school teacher to the murderous drug kingpin known as Heisenberg.
Love for the gritty drama triggered a tourism surge in Albuquerque and has helped several niche businesses.
Bakers, candy makers, tour operators and even a spa that produces bath salts in the city have done a roaring trade in products they have cooked up to meet the growing demand from an influx of "Breaking Bad" fans from across the United States, Europe and Asia.
"Business now is crazy good," said Albuquerque spa products firm owner Keith West-Harrison, who began manufacturing Bathing Bad bath salts with his partner to pay for the renovation of the vacant building they bought for their skin products business.
"In order to pay for this renovation, we asked ourselves 'What would Walter White do?' We decided meth probably wasn't good for us, because we're not chemists, we know that it blows things up and smells bad ... so we decided bath salts were better," he told Reuters.
After a tentative start turning out bath salt batches in a gallon bucket, the partners now use a cement mixer to churn out batches of 50 pounds at a time, which sell well across the United States and in 19 countries, in show-themed plastic baggies.
Also cashing in on "Breaking Bad" is Debbie Ball, the owner of the Candy Lady store in old town Albuquerque. Ball made rock candy that was used as a stand-in for Walt's meth during two seasons of the show, and which she now sells to tourists in "dollar dime bags."
"We like to have fun with it; it's such a bad subject," said Ball, who reckons she has sold 35,000 to 40,000 bags in just over a year. She also runs a limousine tour taking fans to locations from the program, including White's home, although she said the owner has now tired of the procession of visitors beating a path to the front door
Sunday's final episode was watched by 10.3 million viewers as Walt, played by Bryan Cranston, tied up the loose ends of his crumbling drug empire and died from a bullet wound just as the police finally caught up with him. But while Walt's death spelled the end of the hit show, local business owners are optimistic the commercial high will last.
"We still watch 'The Sopranos' reruns, we still watch 'Sex and the City.' Those have been going on for years," said West-Harrison, who now has three generations of his family churning out bath salts upstairs at the business. "So I'm thinking it's going to have a staying power."
Mettling first baked the blue donuts as a gift for Aaron Paul, the actor who played Walt's drug partner Jesse Pinkman, at the show's wrap party last year. She now sells them at an Albuquerque building used as a location for the Drug Enforcement Administration office in the show, and is also upbeat despite the show's conclusion.
"Albuquerque fell in love with that show, and I will not have a problem keeping that donut on the menu," she told Reuters. "It's got some longevity."
Ball agrees, pointing out that the final series has not yet aired in all global markets and that a spinoff series is in the works.
"The business is not going to go away just because the show has ended. There's too many fans, and it's not going stop any time soon. I'm going to continue to deal."
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)