Seeking local donuts

Whenever I travel, I try to find a local donut shop to check out. As I wrote about last time, they can be hard to find. Sometimes that’s because Dunkin’ dominates and there really aren’t local options; other times, it’s because they are tucked away.

I recently visited Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is generally dominated by Dunkin’ and a local chain called Honey Dew. However, I got lucky a few years ago when I discovered Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery, where they make classic donut flavors like cinnamon sugar (below), old fashioned, chocolate-iced and Boston creme. Getting a large iced coffee and a truly fresh, homemade donut, then sitting on the picnic tables outside, is an incredible way to start the day.

Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery

This past weekend, I decided to go on another donut trek, this time about 30 minutes north of where I live, to Peekskill, NY. There, tucked into the ground floor of the Peekskill Brewery, is Peaceful Provisions, a tiny outpost for small-batch donuts. From the outside of the brewery, you would never know there is a donut shop inside. But once there, I loved their small, yet impressive selection of donuts, which were mostly filled creations like their special maple pecan donut filled with cherry compote.

Both of these experiences were so awesome, but I had to seek out these locations and really explore to find them. Local donuts definitely exist, but they are not always obvious or easy to find. These spots may not have big signs, ad campaigns or locations in every rest stop on the highway. But when you track them down, they are pretty special.

Doughnut Plant: Pride Donut

Every month, Doughnut Plant has seasonal specials. In honor of Pride, the flavor of June is a Pride-themed raspberry yeast donut in the shape of a triangle with rainbow stripes.

When Doughnut Plant announced their monthly special for June, Jason sent me a message and said “we should place an order for the team.” If you don’t know, Jason and I work together and back when our company and team was (much) smaller, we’d regularly order a dozen (or two) donuts for the team on Fridays to help boost spirits and camaraderie before the weekend. That’s a little harder for us to do now that our team is over 100 people, but for Pride, we brought the tradition back.

When our company changed our logo to incorporate a rainbow for the month of June, I stopped by Doughnut Plant on the way to work and said “I’ll take all of your Pride donuts, please.” When I got to the office, I sent an email to the team and said “No matter how you identify, I’m happy you’re here and part of the work family so we can all live, love, and work fearlessly together, 24/7.”

Jason posted a photo of the beautiful treats to Instagram with the caption “Being yourself is something we talk about every day on my team, and is even more appropriate during Pride Month.”

I love sharing my passion for donuts with others and seeing smiles across the office as the sweet treats brighten the days of so many people. More importantly, I’m passionate about creating spaces where people can feel welcome and free to true to themselves. Thank you Doughnut Plant for letting me do both. So, grab a donut and be yourself. You’re always welcome here. Happy Pride, everyone!

Donuts in the suburbs

I don’t live in NYC anymore – I am very much in the northern NY suburbs. What that means is my donut home life looks like this:

Bottom line – the options are limited. A few years ago, I felt very lucky to benefit from a deal that Dough did with Whole Foods stores in my area, which meant I could get some of their “beasts of yeast” along with my weekly groceries.

What’s interesting is that the NYC suburbs have proven to “work” for donuts – Boxer Donut in Nyack, NY and Glaze Donuts in New Jersey have shown that. But for some reason, my area lacks independent donut shops, and the big NYC donut brands have resisted moving north outside of those wholesale deals.

Word on the street is that we are getting a Duck Donuts in Mamaroneck, NY soon. Duck is a national franchise chain, so not quite the same as the incredible independent brands we have in NYC, but at least it will mix things up a bit.

Service Wins

When it comes to running a business, brand reputation and overall experience are as important as the product itself. A donut may be a 10/10, but if the service and experience are poor, that can almost be more memorable than the taste.

In the case of our quest, we look beyond the donut itself and towards the experience and service that comes along with each store and location. Earlier this year, I was on a trek through the Eastern Hemisphere and made sure to stop for donuts at every city along the way. When I arrived in Seoul, South Korea, I found a shop called Old Ferry Donuts. Their aesthetics were sharp, clean, and modern and their donuts were large, yeast-filled concoctions of pure bliss (I had a tiramisu and a peanut butter on my visit which you can see at the top of this post). For a token of my travels, I looked to see if the shop had anything for sale that I could take home and when I saw the staff all had on matching shirts, I asked if one was available for purchase. Unfortunately they were sold out so I settled for a tote bag instead. As I was leaving, a woman ran up to me and handed me one of their branded take-away boxes and some of their stickers as a sign of gratitude and as an apology for not having what I actually wanted to buy. It was such a kind gesture that made me feel excited and acknowledged as a customer who had traveled a long way to their store. I followed their Instagram account and still like their photos with a fond memory of their delicious donuts and cheery customer service.

Recently, I saw a post that showed their shirts had once again become available for sale. I messaged them on Instagram and asked if they would be able to mail one to me in New York. They told me that the shirts would be available soon and if I reached back out in a month, I could order one. I thanked them and told them about my visit earlier in the winter and much to my surprise they replied to let me know they remembered me and would let me know when they were ready for shipping. I sent them my name and address and when the shirts were ready, I got a package in the mail. As if that wasn’t enough, the package not only had the shirt, but more stickers, and a hand-held fan with their custom artwork.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from Jason on how to deliver world class customer support, but a lot of it comes down to his motto of “service wins.” A brand can totally capture and retain loyal customers through effective service with human touches. The odds of me being back in Seoul to visit Old Ferry Donuts any time soon are rather low, but I check their social media frequently and only have the best memories and feelings towards their staff and their business. I’ll be a fan of theirs for life and do my best to replicate this moment and quality interaction in my job for years to come.

Peter Pan: Red Velvet

Peter Pan Donuts and Pastry Shop is a Greenpoint, Brooklyn institution known for their classic aesthetics and old-time vibes.

Unlike so many other up and coming artisanal shops that you’ll read about on this blog, Peter Pan sticks with tradition and it’s apparent from the moment you walk in to the shop. Trays of hand-dipped donuts line the trays behind the counter and the entire staff wears matching diner-esque attire. In a shop where tradition is key, I keep things simple and at Peter Pan, that means the red velvet. Deep-fried and hand dipped in delicious glaze, it’s a classic that leaves no room for mistakes. On the inside, the dough is soft and moist, begging to be torn apart to eat in small bites or to be shared amongst friends. The chocolatey goodness is light and never intense, a classic donut in the truest sense of the term. It’s simple, basic, and totally delicious. A staple that should be in ever rotation.

Score: 9/10

Du’s Donuts: Chocolate Caramel Brownie

Chocolate Caramel Brownie from Du’s Donuts is a high-concept cake donut from the mastermind Wylie Dufresne.

A rather new player in the scene, Dufresne’s chic shop is a sleek, cash-only spot located in Williamsburg’s luxury William Vale Hotel and the donuts served up are not your averaged fried-up treat. Dufresne puts the same amount of hard work and science into these tasty treats as he does his other culinary creations and the passion comes through in each bite. The Chocolate Caramel Brownie is a rich experience, full of mouth-watering flavors in each bite. The dense cake is topped with crumbled brownie bits and drizzled in delectable caramel which results in an intense, but deeply satisfying treat. This is no light treat, but almost a full meal on its own.

Score: 8/10

Photo courtesy of Du’s Donuts

Tradition over quality

When I was younger (I think around 10 years old), my Dad would go to a local bakery every Sunday morning to get donuts. It was always a dozen in a white cardboard box, and the two flavors I remember the most were chocolate frosted and jelly. I don’t know if they were high-quality, artisanal or good at all – I just knew that it was a tradition we did every Sunday that brought members of the family together.

Now, every Saturday morning, I have a similar tradition with my daughter. And even though I’ve had some of the best donuts in the world by working in New York City, we go to Dunkin’ Donuts. Why? It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s a tradition. Her favorite flavor is Boston Kreme, although she can be tempted by a seasonal flavor. I usually go with a classic jelly or sometimes a coffee roll if I want something more hearty. Are they the best-tasting donuts? Nope! But in this case, it’s not about having the best. It’s about the tradition of being together, of chatting in line, of discovering the latest seasonal flavor. It’s about how donuts can bring family members together.

Doughnut Project: Black Gold

The Black Gold (aka Brownie Batter) is a classic yeast donut and one of the regulars from The Doughnut Project

Doughnut Project serves up some of the best yeast donuts in the city. Their particular brand is a light and airy mix that feels both satisfying, but not quite too overpowering like some others in this variety. Taking a basic vanilla flavor of dough and topping it with rich, delicious chocolate and sea slat makes for a perfect combination. In addition to the molten chocolatey goodness, the treat is also topped with dark chocolate cookie crumbs and a dash of sea salt which heightens the flavor and takes it a step beyond your classic chocolate frosted donut. Despite the rather large size, the donut is perfectly delightful and hits the spot without leaving you too full – a perfect start to the day or late afternoon snack.

Score: 9/10

Doughnut Plant: Carrot Cake

The Carrot Cake donut is a standard filled donut at Doughnut Plant.

Doughnut Plant has a wide range of classic cake and filled cake donuts which they’ve been churning out since the mid 90s. Carrot Cake, a rich, dense carrot cake donut with cream cheese filling, is not only a supreme example of such donut, but showcases their ability to combine remarkable texture with a delectable filling for an artisanal creation that is just as traditional as it is exploratory. The vanilla glaze, with bits of walnuts and carrots, pairs brilliantly with the slight spice of the cake which changes things up from the traditional vanilla or chocolate than tend to dominate the scene. It’s daring enough for one looking to expand their palette and still not a stretch beyond a modern classic.

Score: 10/10

Photo courtesy of Doughnut Plant NYC

Doughnut Plant: Strawberry Cake

The Strawberry Cake donut is the May 2019 Flavor of the Month at Doughnut Plant. 


Like Doughnut Plant’s signature cake donut, the Strawberry is dense and moist. A darker cake makes up the body and gives a subtle and delectable taste, but with just a hint of the fruit flavor. The icing was a bit crunchy and flaked off by the time I got it out of the wax paper wrapping, but I appreciated the lightness in flavor. Not at all overwhelming, it actually left me hoping for something a bit more intense. Unlike some of their other classics, I didn’t see any actual use of the fruit in the donut which may have led to the lack of total flavor. Still, the consistency and texture was fantastic and satiating.

 
Score: 7/10

Photo courtesy of Doughnut Plant NYC