In her latest view of the US market, Kerstin Kühn writes for MCA about the evolution of the humble doughnut in the States. She investigates a whole new generation of doughnuteries springing up around the USA, making their mark on the country’s culinary landscape
The doughnut is arguably Americas most iconic sweet treat, available on just about every street corner across the nation. Dating back all the way to the 17th century, when Dutch settlers brought the fried pastry to New Amsterdam, it has become the poster child of everyday American indulgence. The doughnut epitomises characters throughout pop culture, from Homer Simpson to Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper, and as the Smithsonian notes “in its democratic ethos, its optimism, and its assorted origins, it does seem rather quintessentially American”.
Doughnut giants such as Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts or Winchell’s Donuts have been serving the nation, indeed the world, for decades with their classic, sweet flavors. But now the humble doughnut is undergoing a revolution, with cheffy reinventions elevating the fried pastry to new heights. There’s a whole new generation of doughnuteries opening up shop around the USA, making their mark on the country’s culinary landscape.
From high profile chefs such as Brendan Sodikoff’s The Doughnut Vault in Chicago or Wylie Dufresne’s Du’s Donuts in New York, there are now doughnuts of serious culinary pedigree. Their offerings go way beyond the standard cinnamon, sugar or custard flavoured pastries, with innovative sweet creations such as the Thai Dust doughnut at Donut Savant in Oakland, California, made with toasted coconut, fresh ginger, kaffir lime and roasted chillies; to savoury doughnuts such as the chorizo and cheddar or rosemary olive oil doughnuts at Fonuts in Los Angeles.
“It’s incredible to see the growth of doughnuts and how much consumers love them,” Rebecca Loveland, vice-president of business marketing for Dawn Food Products, told Bake Magazine. “Consumers’ expectations are increasing and they want to be delighted with colours, textures and flavours — and customers are capitalising on the opportunity to expand doughnuts into different parts of the day.”
But it’s not just menus that are changing. Dunkin’ Donuts has just launched its first “next generation store of the future experience”, featuring a pickup counter for mobile orders, nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee and tabletop outlets to power mobile devices.
The times are changing and doughnuts are not lagging behind, apparently unaffected by the recent consumer focus on healthy lifestyles and clean eating. Here’s a round up of some of the most innovative doughnut concepts in the USA today.
DOUGHNUT VAULT, CHICAGO
Who’s behind it? Serial restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, the owner of Au Cheval, Gilt Bar and Three Arts Club Café as well as numerous other hit hospitality concepts. He started selling big, fresh doughnuts out of a brick storefront in the spring of 2011 and the queues began forming right away.
What makes it special? What makes Doughnut Vault so desirable is its premise of planned scarcity: “We serve artisanal hand-crafted doughnuts in classic flavours, creating small batches to preserve quality. Each of our shops offers a unique menu and daily specials.” This means that once the small batches are sold out, the doors close, creating a hype and sense of urgency among customers, who happily line up outside from the early morning.
What’s on the menu? Daily changing specials include Mexican hot chocolate cake; blueberry old fashioned with crumble; whiskey caramel old fashioned with pecan nuts; and double chocolate yellow cake.
DU’S DONUTS, NEW YORK
Who’s behind it? Wylie Dufresne, the James Beard Award winning chef formerly of the Michelin-starred wd~50 and Alder in New York City. After closing his restaurants he returned to his sweet-toothed roots with Du’s Donuts, which sells its products at its store in Brooklyn as well as select Whole Foods locations and coffee shops across New York.
What makes it special? Colourful cake doughnuts dominate the menu, led by Dufresne’s passion for improbable combinations. These are doughnuts with a fine dining touch..
What’s on the menu? Classic flavours include cinnamon apple; chocolate caramel brownie; and cherry pie; while more innovative, unusual creations include things like peanut butter and yuzu; grapefruit and chamomile; pomegranate tahini; and honey fennel pollen.
HURTS DONUT CO., MULTI-STATE
Who’s behind it? Hurts Donut Co was founded in Springfield, Missouri, in 2013 by Kas and Tim Clegg. Armed with clever marketing and crazy toppings, the company has since expanded across 10 states and counting.
What makes it special? Billing itself as the “rebel of all donuts” the brand’s rapid growth is largely thanks to its doughnuts topped with quirky ingredients such as Froot Loops, the marshmallows from Lucky Charms, crushed-up Oreos, salted pretzels, sliced strawberries and even pepperoni.
What’s on the menu? Signature doughnuts include the maple-bacon bar, which is topped with maple icing and covered in pieces of real chopped bacon; the fire in the hole, a doughnut hole filled with jalapeño cream cheese slathered in Sriracha glaze; and the pink lemonade donut, a white cake doughnut with vanilla icing, pink lemonade powder and pink lemonade icing.
BLUE STAR DONUTS, OREGON AND CALIFORNIA
Who’s behind it? CEO and owner Katie Poppe has co-founded and opened more than 30 restaurants, including Little Big Burger and Boxer Ramen. She started her specialty doughnut shop in Portland, Oregon, in 2012, and now has seven locations in the city as well as two in Los Angeles.
What makes it special? Blue Star Donuts makes brioche-style doughnuts, which are created with an 18-hour process involving overnight fermentation, and fried in rice oil at a low temperature to minimize oil absorption. They are made with high quality ingredients such as European butter, sustainable bread flour, organic milk and free-range eggs.
What’s on the menu? Their creative flavour combinations include the hard apple cider fritter; the blueberry bourbon basil doughnut; the raspberry, rosemary and buttermilk doughnut; and the pina colada, made with pineapple, coconut, rum, mint-flavoured cake and shredded coconut.
PEPPLES DONUT FARM, CALIFORNIA
Who’s behind it? Simply called Donut Farm was founded in 2007 in San Francisco by Josh Levine as a vegan company. What began as a hobby quickly became a daily wholesale business, serving cafes in the Bay Area in need of vegan options. In 2010 it opened its own café before and it now has outlets in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
What makes it special? Donut Farm serves entirely plant-based, vegan doughnuts that are made from 100% organic ingredients. Its flavours range from classic to highly unusual like the sweet curry, and szechaun chai doughnuts.
What’s on the menu? Signature vegan doughnut flavours include salted caramel; lavender earl grey; whisky tangerine fig; candycap; and matcha green tea.
DUNKIN’ DONUTS NEXT GENERATION STORES
Who’s behind it? Dunkin Donuts is the company that has been serving doughnuts since 1950 and now has locations across the USA and in 45 countries worldwide. Its first new concept store opened in January in Quincy, Massachusetts, near its corporate headquarters in Boston. The company plans to open 50 throughout the USA this year.
What makes it special? The new concept store features a modern atmosphere and new and innovative technologies and design elements, including the first drive-thru exclusively for mobile ordering, fully-integrated digital kiosks, new crew uniforms designed by Life is Good and a tap system serving eight consistently cold beverages such as coffees, iced teas, cold brew coffee and nitro infused cold brew coffee. The first two test locations have also adopted new “Dunkin’” only marquee branding, underscoring the chain’s pivot to compete with Starbucks with its beverage program.
What’s on the menu? The menu goes beyond its doughnuts such as the double chocolate, Boston cream and strawberry frosted and also includes breakfast sandwiches and wraps.
Kerstin Kühn is a journalist specialising in the US hospitality sector