Selling donuts for $4 apiece might not make sense to some bakers. But when there is huge demand for donuts in your area, especially for uniquely flavored varieties, you leverage the opportunity into a profitable business model.
This is the success story of Rachel Crampsey, owner of Montclair Bread Co. in Montclair, New Jersey. Crampsey is a serious baker who trained with some of the top bread bakers in the country and always wanted to open her own bread shop. When this dream came true in 2012, she soon discovered that donuts — somewhat to her surprise — became a big money maker.
About six months after her bakery opened, Crampsey and a friend started experimenting with breakfast items and decided to make brioche donuts covered in cinnamon sugar one Sunday morning. She wasn’t sure what to expect because she had taken over retail space in Montclair from a bakery that had not been open on Sundays, and she didn’t know whether her customers wanted donuts.
“We made three dozen brioche donuts the first day, and they were gone in a second,” Crampsey said recently, while instructing a donut production class at the Bread Bakers Guild of America’s WheatStalk conference in Providence, Rhode Island.
WheatStalk participants learned many techniques from instructors including Crampsey, who taught a full-day lab on how to make creative donuts, crullers and churros. Crampsey shared her inspirational story of how her bread bakery developed a “donut addiction” to the class.
Using flavors creatively makes a huge impact. Crampsey whips up glazes made of beer, Nutella, honey, tres leches (a popular Hispanic cake flavor made with three milks) and Mexican chocolate ganache — just to name a few.
Today, the bakery menu at Montclair Bread features three tiers of donuts (classics like apple cider for $2, specialties like maple bacon and Boston cream for $3, and premiums like Nutella for $4), in addition to offering “duffins” (donut-muffin hybrid pastries for $3), croissants, Danish and artisan breads.
Her catering menu takes donut choices to the extreme, with such options as 10-inch specialty or premium donuts in various flavors for $40 or $50 and a donut tower for $99. The donut tower is described as three dozen mini donuts and four dozen donut hotels “to construct a tower of yum!”
It wasn’t easy getting started, particularly because the original space of Montclair Bread was 200 square feet (she has since expanded to a central kitchen). “We had to unplug the freezer while we were frying donuts,” Crampsey recalls. For those bakeries with similar space restrictions, “I recommend buying a tabletop fryer, so you don’t need a hood.” In 2014, Crampsey won The Cooking Channel’s Donut Showdown and, by then, Montclair Bread was making donuts every day. Crampsey has never looked back.
Training for the finish line
Crampsey switched career aspirations early in life when she decided to forego a master’s degree in education (she originally intended to be a French teacher) and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America’s baking and pastry program. She went on to bake for Bread Alone in Boiceville, New York, Amy’s Bread in New York City, The Patisserie in Milford, Pennsylvania, and Tribeca Oven in Carlstadt, New Jersey, before opening her bakery in 2012.
Baking at Amy’s Bread was a valuable experience. “Amy Scherber (founder of Amy’s Bread) is, was, and always will be my greatest mentor and inspiration. I came to her as a brand new baker in 2005. It was at Amy’s Bread that I really learned to bake. Her breads are top notch. Moreover, she taught me how to be a strong business woman without losing my sense of self. She nurtures and inspires her staff. She’s hands-on in the bakery every day even after 20 successful years. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think ‘What would Amy do?’ – be kind, bake from your heart and everything else will fall into place.”
One of her favorite products to make is brioche dough. She loves the interactive process in which the butter has to be added to the dough bit by bit while you watch it mix. They make up to 11 batches of brioche dough every day. “I never get tired of adding those bits of butter. Then, I really baby the dough with gentle folds and lots of rest. In the end, if I did everything right, I’m rewarded with a light, fluffy, buttery donut for my efforts.”
Her bakery’s menu changes seasonally. She visits the local farmers’ market every Saturday morning to see what is newly harvested. Crampsey is always trying to come up with new ways to incorporate seasonal fruits and veggies into the mix. Donuts offer so many possibilities — glazes, fillings, jams and toppings. “We created a donut using ground cherries (sometimes called husk cherries)! It’s also fun to introduce our customers to something they might not have tried before.”
She understands that more and more consumers want to know where their food comes from, which is why education is such a huge part of the bakery’s recent expansion. Montclair Bread moonlights as a community education center where they teach baking classes.
Another big trend in food is the use of Instagram to promote sales, she says. It’s often overlooked by business owners, but it is currently the biggest driver of sales for Crampsey. Her staff loves to post donut photos on the bakery’s Instagram feed and they enjoy using this platform to interact with customers. “At least once an hour, a new customer walks through the door and tells us they had to come in because they just saw XYZ on Instagram. It is important to have great photos. Don’t just post to post.”
Drawing from her childhood, Crampsey likes to take classic, approachable desserts that people are very familiar with and figure out ways to turn them into donuts.
Her grandmother made wedding cakes for a living. She would give Rachel a paper plate to decorate while she worked on the actual cake. “I learned how to write my name in buttercream using a pastry bag before I could hold a pencil,” Crampsey says. “Baking, from a very early age, represented a way to connect with my grandmother. She’s still my first call when I screw something up and need to figure out a way to fix it or when I need the perfect recipe from her little orange box of index cards.”
Today, Crampsey channels her passion for baking and tremendous energy into a rewarding career that provides for her family. “They are my reason for everything,” she says. “On Mother’s Day 2015, there was a line which went out the door of the bakery and all the way to the end of the block from 7 a.m. until we finally sold out of donuts around 11 a.m. That line has continued to form every weekend since. It represents so much. They want to come back week after week and they want to bring their friends and families. I get a little teary-eyed whenever that line forms. I also get an overwhelming sense of pride because that line means that I can support my family and the families of the people who work at Montclair Bread Co. That’s huge.”