Is the Doughnut Trend Here to Stay?
We got to the bottom of the upscale doughnut craze in Rhode Island.
Knead Doughnuts on Custom House Street in Providence leads a calmer existence. Trendy music plays in the cafe, where customers sit and sip coffee and nibble doughnuts while reading the newspaper or swiping through their phones. At the back of the bakery is a window into the kitchen where the public can watch the treats be fried, glazed and finished.
Knead baker Wetherley Rouleau, twenty-seven, is a Johnson and Wales University graduate who started making doughnuts — frying two at a time — at her home kitchen counter. When Knead opened last December, she dove in head first. This operation focuses on making the best versions they can of classic flavors, offering vanilla glazed, sour cream old-fashioned, chocolate cake and a popular brown butter pecan in addition to special rotating creations. “We’re doing simple doughnuts as beautiful and delicious as possible,” says Rouleau, who sports a ball cap with glazed doughnuts printed all over the inside of the brim that she had made for staffers.
She comes into the bakery at 2 or 3 a.m. and works about a ten-hour day along with the other bakers. “All of our doughnuts are on a twenty-four-hour cycle but the brioche ones take the longest,” she says. “Those get mixed up very early in the morning and they rest overnight. Then we cut them out first thing when we get here.” Most of the gourmet doughnut bakers are in their late twenties across the Rhode Island businesses. “We’re the only ones who have the energy to keep going,” says Rouleau with a laugh.
She keeps tabs on what’s happening in the doughnut world, visiting shops in Rhode Island, Boston and New York. “Part of the fun is seeing what they’re doing, getting inspired and comparing and taking notes as to what we should strive for or change,” she says.
Knead features doughnut delivery and it recently added wholesale accounts to spread their goods across the city in already existing locations. “On a busy day, we’ll make anywhere between 1,800 and 2,500,” Rouleau says. They can be found at the two Bolt coffee locations inside the Dean Hotel and at the RISD Museum (the co-owners of Bolt share ownership of Knead with owner-operator Adam Lastrina), Sin Bakery, Sydney, the Coffee Exchange, White Electric, East Side Marketplace, farmers markets and more.
The additional accounts make more dough for the business while adding convenience for customers. “Even though the city is so small, people don’t like to leave their neighborhoods,” Rouleau says.
Rhode lslanders’ hesitation to travel far for something was also part of the thinking behind the opening of 4corners Coffee at Hoxsie Four Corners near T.F. Green airport in Warwick. The bright blue shop captures attention from the sky as planes land and passengers make their way from the tarmac to their cars on the roads in search of breakfast.
Warwick is a ten- or fifteen-minute drive from downtown Providence, but for some, that might be a trek for good doughnuts. “The doughnut shops are all in different markets, and this was a market that we felt needed artisan doughnuts,” says 4corners Coffee co-owner Edward Brady. They hope to corner the market in that area with all-day breakfast from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and square-shaped doughnuts that come in daily rotating flavors from the outlandish cotton candy to more refined maple bacon and berry cheesecake. “The demand has been better than we expected,” says Brady. “We’re making 2,000 to 3,000 doughnuts a day.”
Baker Andrea Leonardo is also a Johnson and Wales grad and she grew up working in her family’s bakeries. Brady runs 4corners with partner Justin Erickson and co-owner Jeff Quinlan. Between Brady and Quinlan, they now own eight restaurants. The lineup also includes Milk Money and two Thirsty Beavers in Smithfield and Cranston, which they own together, Say Cheese (owned independently by Brady) and the two Pink Pig locations in Warren and Jamestown as well McBlarney’s in Warren (owned independently by Quinlan).
4corners Coffee fuels locals and visitors alike on a well-traveled strip with quirky pastry and $5 nitro iced coffees — ice cold coffee that’s kegged at 33 degrees — that’ll make red eye recovery a thing of the past. “Warwick is a city tourists fly into. People get a grasp on the state when they are coming in the airport,” Brady says. “In an ideal world, this is a place we can make a staple, and when you come to Rhode Island, you gotta try the square doughnut.”
The owners hope to eventually open multiple coffee and doughnut shops. “We have a brandable concept here at 4corners that we could open up numerous locations,” Brady says. “There’s obviously a doughnut craze in the state of Rhode Island and there are a lot of craft bakeries that are doing a great job, including PVDonuts, Knead and Allie’s Donuts. We’re not exactly like them, we’re all unique in our own way.”
Now that there’s an influx of gourmet doughnuts, will Rhode Islanders be willing to fork over enough dough to sustain them all? “Doughnuts are here to stay in some form,” says Johnson and Wales’ Peter Kelly. “There’s a survival of the fittest that will happen, and who is in it for the long haul? It will be one of those things of who does the best job for the longest.”
While Allie’s keeps rolling out its unchanged recipes nearing its fiftieth anniversary, Knead will satisfy needs for gourmet classics done well, 4corners will feed airport travelers and those who stick close to home and PVDonuts will continue innovating to bring forth the most creative doughnuts we’ve seen in these parts.
Lori Kettelle of PVDonuts wrote a first-person account of her first year in business for the restaurant management platform Upserve, and she says she worries every night if people will show up tomorrow.
“Even with all that success — maybe because of it — I still have doubts. People love doughnuts. But will they keep showing up? Maybe that’s the pattern in this business: wake up, sell out, worry that it’s all a fluke. Believe it or not, working in a space between scared and happy is where I thrive.”
PVDonuts is also prioritizing helping other new businesses by offering pop up shops for them to use the storefront (for free) on days when the doughnut shop is closed. They also dedicate proceeds from some doughnuts to various causes, including honey production at Moonrose Farm, Planned Parenthood, Amos House and Girls Rock! RI.
On a Monday in mid-May, Kettelle collaborated with Rebelle Artisan Bagels to allow baker and friend Milena Pagan an opportunity to sell her bagels and see what it takes to run a retail shop while she raised money to open her own through Kickstarter. The bakery was successfully funded and Pagan hopes to open on the East Side in August. “It’s really important to support people who are just starting up,” says Kettelle. “It’s a good opportunity for them to see how they do before they have their own space. If I had had a retail space I could have tested out, I totally would have done it.”
In addition to offering Rebelle Bagels, the two bakers from the two different businesses produced a mashup everything bagel doughnut that’s now available at PVDonuts every Wednesday. It’s a savory fried doughnut stuffed with whipped cream cheese mousse, glazed with malted barley sourced from Foolproof Brewery and topped with “everything” sprinkles of poppy and sesame seeds, plus garlic and onion bits, caraway and salt. Before the 8 a.m. opening time, a line of fans was already forming at the door, waiting to try the latest, hottest food item.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]