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What makes a great donut / donut shop?

  • p

A business School friend of mine were discussing -only half seriously - the possiblity of starting a donut shop. We both consider ourselves to be chowhounds and we're not crazy with the selection and quality in our area, which consists of Dunkin' Donuts or Supermarket Krispy Kremes. There are no other good donut shops in our area (Mount Laurel, NJ).

My question is what makes a really great donut (or donut shop)? What flavors (any unique flavors), textures shops do you like? I seem to love the huge rectangular jelly donuts that I used to get in Brooklyn.

If anything maybe this will turn out to be a hald decent thread.



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  1. Fluffy and airy with a thin glaze--so beautiful, it's ready for a close-up.

    1. The perfect donut shop would have great coffee. By far the best donut I've ever eaten, (LaMars in Kansas City -plain glazed, still warm, light as air,) was eaten with ungreat coffee. It seems to be the standard. But in a perfect world...........

      1. My boyfriend considers himself to be a donut connoisseur of sorts - whenever we pass a new shop, he demands we stop and order a sack. His requirements for a good donut shop are:
        1. fresh, obviously
        2. not too sweet (he dislikes Krispy Kremes because of the glaze)
        3. cheap
        4. BIG
        5. good selection, & preferably a few donuts he's never seen anywhere else

        He's been up and down the West Coast and through the Midwest and insists that the best donut shops are those that sell both donuts and cheap Chinese food.

        Personally, I'd like to see more donuts made with quality ingredients.

        1. Flavors that aren't too too sweet. I love the doughnut plant in NYC because the doughnuts have just the perfect amount of sweetness. Same goes for my beloved Lamar's Sour Cream Doughnut here in KC...

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jeff

            Doesn't the donut plant sell to other stores? I think they were features on the food network. Big donuts made with all natural ingredients. Do you know what they charge for donuts?

            1. re: pat i
              Alexandra Halsey

              Get the donut plant story here: http://www.doughnutplant.com/

              Sorry, it doesn't include prices, but I think I paid around $2 for a donut plant doughnut at Bazzini's on Greenwich Street. All things considered (fresh ingredients, small batches) I thought it was a lot to pay for a doughnut, but it's big enough for two (if you're willing to share, that is!).


          2. Of course excellent D&C. I feel myself being drawn to this one place. It is immaculate, has peace and serenity, you feel almost as if you are in their home.

            1. v
              Vanessa On The Town

              A few months ago, Fortune Small Business had an article about donut chains and Krispy Kreme in particular. There was some comparison of sales that was like, in a year a Dunkin Donuts makes about $744,000 and a Krispy Kreme makes about $2.2 million.

              Might be helpful for your friend to read for business info. The perfect donut with a distinct flavor is probably a trial and error thing. Or he can't create the perfect donut, he can buy a Krispy Kreme for $2 million.

              See link below for article.

              Link: http://www.fortune.com/indexw.jhtml?c...

              1. Ah, a topic near and dear to my heart (unfortunately, probably literally).

                I used to work at a Dunkin Donuts during high school in Miami. I got the job because I was there so often that when I needed a job, they already knew me.

                From what I saw, the most sucessful shops were ones where the owner (or their family) worked there. We had absentee owners, and it was horribly run.

                Before you open a store though, I should warn you that you can't get the donut smell out of your clothes or hair. Plus, as a high school kid, the grease didn't help my skin any.

                That said, I had a great time working there. Tons of free donuts, a great place for my friends to hang out, and best of all - no curfew, since I was worked night shift over the summer.

                Sorry, I'm telling a story, not talking about great donuts.

                Freshness is important, but a hot donut is a trancendent donut. The more hot ones you can sell, the better your shop will be. I won't even buy them anymore unless they are hot out of the fryer.

                Krispy Kreme's killer feature is the "Hot Donuts" sign. Their glaze sucks. It is way too thick and sweet, and IM (not so) HO is totally disgusting. I tried to pick off the frosting but found it too difficult.

                The other important feature is good coffee. Much much more important nowdays, since you will be competing with starbucks, et al.

                The atmosphere is dependent on your market. Take-out, students, workers, breakfast, etc.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Dan Raffle

                  A good donut shop looks "iived in". The decor should be seventies: earth tones, interior brick, fake wood formica.

                  A good donut shop has a fair balance of cake to yeast donuts, a few kinds of donut holes, some french cruellers, and a good apple fritter. If you must diversify your menu any further stick to pies, preferably apple, cherry and cream.

                2. Yeast donuts should be served warm whenever possible, and should be thrown out after an hour. Cake donuts should be crisp on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. Strong drip coffee should be available, as should ice-cold milk. Variety of selection is up to what you do best, but please, stick to donuts, don't try to branch out to croissants, scones or bagels, or you court disaster. The atmosphere should be diner-like, cluttered, messy is okay, nothing too sterile. If your servers have some attitude, it's a bonus.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SKU

                    I concur. A few additional comments: nothing should taste like grease. Filled donuts are okay, but the fillings have to be REAL; unusual flavors are okay as an experiment (how about nesselrode, or spiced cranberry? you get the idea). For me, NO glaze -- too sweet.

                    On the place: the counter stools should have backs, for 2 reasons: 1) it's more comfortable to sit for a long time with some back support, and 2) the backs can camouflage everyone's rear end (assumed to be on the largish side if they hang around your place long enough ;->)

                  2. Forget it, McDonalds is getting into the game.


                    1. Pat,

                      If you're seriously researching doing an independent donut shop, head up to Westport, CT and check out "Coffee An". It's a small diner/coffee shop and they make what many claim to be the best donut in the state, and among the best I've had anywhere. I've eaten there many times and agree completely. People come from all over to stand in line to get some. Get there early in the am to taste, watch and learn.

                      Jim Leff and others on this board have posted raves about it.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Uncledave

                        Mmmmmmmmmmm......Coffee An's donuts!

                      2. Reasons folks go to donut shops:
                        -- cheap eats
                        -- a place to hang out for a while

                        That said, French (eggy cruller) donuts I can't pass up, and if a shop doesn't do them, they don't get my business.

                        I have had the poorest excuses for croissants and fruit-filled bars at donut shops. They managed to make a "flakey" pastry that's both greasy and tough. I think anything your friend offers should be a good, trustworthy rendition.

                        1. k
                          Kathryn Callaghan

                          Fillings! Jelly donuts filled with a generous amount of high quality, not-too-sweet jam are almost impossible to find. (A high quality donut filling has texture and seeds.) And a custard donut filled with custard that doesn't taste like somebody's industrial vanilla pudding mix is a great thing.

                          Many American filled donuts have a sub-optimal texture as well - too light and dry. The European recipe on which the American is based might produce better results. I believe a custard donut is called a Berliner in both Germany and Spain, and there are many eastern European variations. The dough is richer.

                          Frosting should be generous also, but glaze should be light, since too much glaze makes for an overly sweet donut.

                          I wonder if, in this gimmicky age of conveyor belts and flashing lights, you might be able to raise your profile and create a following by having a house specialty - Maybe something unique like cider donuts, whipped-cream crullers, or some unique old fritter relative.

                          You would certainly be in a different league than the competition if you could manage to serve great coffee. And I strongly agree with the poster who said that you should stick to donuts - no croissants, scones, bagles, etc.

                          1. Man, I hate it when Chowhound gets on about donuts because once I start thinking about them, I find it very hard to not give in and go get some of my favorite donuts (from a place nearby that I read about here on Chowhound.)

                            I love donuts in all shapes and flavors. Yeast, jelly, but above all, cake donuts. My favorite donut (from Kane's Donuts in Saugus, MA) is a huge marble cake donut, with a crispy glazed outside and a soft, moist, cinnamon-ny inside. The jelly donuts are big and pillowy with actual fruit jam inside. I have a friend who craves this place's Boston Cream donut, and I tried one to see what the fuss was all about. The custard/cream is delicious and there's lots of it, with real chocolate spread liberally on top.

                            So I guess what makes a good dunut for me is one that doesn't skimp on good ingredients and really makes that indulgence worthwhile. There's nothing worse than giving in and having a Dunkin Donut and having it be so-so and wishing you'd saved those calories to spend elsewhere.

                            This donut shop is also what a donut shop should be. Friendly staff who call you "Hon", with a counter complete with stools and old guys reading newspapers and about 6 tables where people feel free to linger. 70's style decor makes it all seem that much more authentic.

                            1. w
                              wow i'm a dog

                              Well, clearly McDonald's thinks it's a good thing; at least in NYC.

                              Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/12/din...

                              1. 1) Open 25 hours. Yes, most places are open 24 hours a day...but I know at least one (Hunt's Donuts, on Mission in San Francisco) that claims to be open *25* hours a day. Anything less than that shows a lack of initiative.

                                2) Peet's coffee.

                                3) Actual ingredients. The reason so many donuts taste the same is that they're all buying the same conditioners, flavorings, etc. from the same distributors. Use real stuff, and you'll stand out.

                                4) Good buttermilk bars. This one's a dealbreaker--I won't go into a donut shop that doesn't have buttermilk bars.

                                5) Good apple fritters. Same deal.

                                6) Attitude, attitude, attitude.

                                6.a) Waitress attitude. My name might be honey or it might be dear or it might even be mister or bud, but it sure as hell isn't sir.

                                6.b) Clever signs. Tipping is not a province in China. Our credit manager is Helen Waite; if you want credit, go to Helen Waite. We have an arrangement with the bank: they don't serve donuts, and we don't cash checks.

                                1. If you ever get the chance High Hill Ranch in Apple Hill,Hwy. 50 Ca. has the best apple donuts I've ever had. It's a cake type donut wich comes glazed or crumb.

                                  1. I may have missed this one on another post, but FRESHNESS! There's nothing like fresh donuts in the morning AND in the afternoon. Sometimes I like to get a little snack donut during my afternoon break, but the donuts have usually been hanging around since that morning. Stale, dry and not very pleasant. If you can keep the donuts rolling out at a reasonable freshness rate, I'm sure you'll be a success. And, yes, terrific coffee and a selection of good juices.

                                    1. Vegan donuts available.

                                      No croissants or bagels or muffins.

                                      Open early, close early.

                                      Fresh donuts being made continuously over the course of the day.

                                      Store name should not have "Donut" as first word. "Donuts" should be the second word of two word name.


                                      Prices clearly displayed.

                                      Focus on strengths. No more than six varieties necessary; twelve is too many.

                                      Owner on premises during open hours.

                                      1. My dad got a recipe when we were kids, (now lost) at a Youth Hostel he stayed at in Vermont.

                                        The lady who ran the hostel was Lila Hodgman and we called them Lila Hodgman's donuts.

                                        It was a simple but thick cake dough with flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon. You rolled them out, and then cut the donuts.

                                        However, I am absolutely convinced that what made them the best donuts I ever ate was that they were fried in Lard.

                                        They were not at all greasy and had this supercrisp outside and nutty tasty inside.

                                        These donuts were so good that I made them from scatch myself at least 4-5 times as a 12-14 year old.

                                        Better yet, the donuts stayed good for several days!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: FeedMe

                                          If you fry in lard, let your customers know. McDonalds really screwed us vegetarians by putting beef flavoring on their fries and calling it "natural flavoring"