Our November issue profiled several of the nation's most progressive bakeries. Among those are some truly incredible donut shops, who have helped to elevate the once humble donut into a gourmet dessert. Much like in the cupcake movement, they are using a bakery item as a platform to create a menu full of fun and interesting flavors.
"We're seeing donuts increasingly appear on restaurant menus and specialty donut shops are opening up around the country. It's a donut evolution and consumers are craving creativity," says Becky Loveland of Dawn Foods.
Duck Donuts differentiates from other donut shops because the process is completely made-to-order. Cake donuts are made fresh the moment an order is placed. Customers can choose from a variety of icing, topping, and drizzle combinations, including traditional favorites such as vanilla icing with sprinkles and more adventurous creations such as maple icing with bacon.
Consumers like having the opportunity to customize, and Duck Donuts can provide customers with a product that exactly meets their sweet desires. The family-friendly stores offer a viewing area where children and adults can watch their donuts being made.
The freshness factor plays a significant role in the success of Duck Donuts. “We were constantly approached by customers asking us to franchise and bring the brand back to their hometown,” founder Russ DiGilio says. “After many years of shying away from the idea of franchising, we decided to give it a try, and in 2013, we opened our first franchise in Williamsburg, Virginia. And today we have more than 50 operating locations, and more than another 130 locations under contract in 22 states.
Along with Instagram and Snapchat, California Donuts utilizes social media sites like Facebook to generate excitement about its brand and monitor customer demand and activity. One new Facebook feature that helps accomplish this mission is called Popular Hours, which shows when the bakery is busiest. For example, Popular Hours reveals that walk-in traffic at California Donuts in Los Angeles peaks between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. every Friday night.
California Donuts opened 35 years ago as a tiny donut shop but catapulted into fame based on its eye-catching, photo-worthy creations. “We have now become a late night dessert spot in Los Angeles. Our product is unique. We are inventors, not followers,” says manager Danette Kuoch.
Specialty donuts at California Donuts sell for $2, $2.50 or $3. The specialty menu includes their signature Panda donut made with Oreo pieces, Blueberry Toast Crunch, Strawberry and Nuts, Samoa, and Lucky Charms. To say that Kuoch and her creative social media team are savvy is a massive understatement. California Donuts boasts a whopping 463,000 followers on Instagram. They are equally active on Snapchat.
New York retailer Dough is an increasingly popular donut shop that serves gourmet flavors like hibiscus donuts. Many of its flavors are inspired by Mexican and European influences.
In a unique marketing event in 2017, Callebaut joined forces with Dough for a special “Chocolate Doughnut Takeover” at the donut shop’s Flatiron location in Manhattan, where customers sampled donuts made with Callebaut Belgian chocolate.
Dough’s chef and owner created 15 flavors of donuts featuring chocolates from Callebaut’s finest Belgian chocolate range, made with sustainable cocoa, and the Single Origin Collection.
Donut flavors featured in Gerson’s chocolate lineup included White Chocolate Matcha, Brazil Yuzu-Ginger, Java Coconut-Lemongrass, Caramelized White Chocolate Espresso, Madagascar Chai Spice, Chocolate Arroz con Leche, Ecuador Chocolate-Peanut-Caramel Popcorn, and a mouth-watering Salted Brown Butter with Candied Almond Crunch.
Voodoo Doughnut offers a plethora of unique flavors which have attracted locals and tourists alike. Staples such as the Bacon Maple Bar and the Portland Cream are joined by more outside-the-box ideas. One such donut features bubble gum dust and a piece of bubble gum on top, while another resembles a voodoo doll complete with a raspberry jelly filling and a pretzel stake.
Many of these donuts are a result of employee creativity. “We’re always trying to develop ideas for new donuts. A lot of times we just put new ingredients in the shop and let employees come up with ideas,” says Portland regional manager Wayne Boucher.
The Hurts Donut concept is a 24-hour bakery that specializes in handmade donuts topped with quirky ingredients. Popular orders include a Hurts Dozen, with toppings ranging from crunchy breakfast cereal to Nutella swirled into the shape of a popular emoji.
“Initially, it was anything that didn’t belong on a donut,” founder Tim Clegg says of their donut toppings. “We’d try different candies or cereals. If people gravitated toward it, we followed the demand. Now it is much more of a science and we use our original store as a test market. That’s our creative lab.”
That innovation has helped Hurts grow from a tiny donut shop to 15 stores and $23 million in annual sales in just four years.