We had the good fortune of connecting with Alyssa Chan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alyssa, what do you attribute your success to?
The Donuttery wasn’t founded on building a brand. It evolved into a brand as people became familiar with our donuts and loved them. My focus was entirely on making just really good donuts. I became obsessed with the humble, ring-shaped, fried dough so embedded in our morning coffee ritual. With the revolution of food in recent years on social media, I noticed that donuts were trending away from the classic yeast-raised donut that is light, springy and chewy. The widespread hysteria of donut crossbreds and picture perfect designs are aesthetically pleasing and decadent, but oftentimes cloyingly sweet. The recent explosion of styles and shapes, sometimes threaten to capsize the whole idea of a donut, made me realize that, at heart, I am a purist. I wanted to focus on just traditional flavors. The best doughnuts involve a wet, sticky dough when developed under the right condition of temperature and humidity produce a crumb that is moist and airy, crisp on the outside, textured with nooks and crannies, and chewy on the inside. That is what I am after and I think people caught on. A patron once told us that our “donuts look ugly, but they taste so damn good.” It’s the nostalgia behind the glazed donut and my fixation on the fragile process of dough development and technique that made the brand.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I can confidently say that it is never smooth sailing for any entrepreneur working in the restaurant or bakery business. On top of kitchen disasters like equipment malfunction, room temperature and humidity variability that affect dough development, and navigating through the ebb and flow of market demand and ever-changing dietary trends, it has been a challenge trying to accommodate the increased demand producing out of the limited space at our shop. My recipe to navigating through these challenges is passion and optimism–learning from failed experiences, taking risks to invest in new ideas and methods, and viewing failed experiments as progress. For more than ten years, we have been making vegan versions of our donuts and, more recently, gluten-free for people with dietary restrictions to dairy and gluten. I am excited to explore new processes and avenues for doughs using the myriad of gluten free flours and ancient grains now readily available as well as in-house milling of nut flours used in some of our vegan donuts. Space limitation remains the primary challenge of my business as I forge forward with the evolving food trends with adherence to traditional flavors in new ways.
I’d like to think of The Donuttery as a charming, old-time, well-worn juxtaposition to the modern era of loopy invention and instagram-ready dessert art, preserving classic flavors–nothing outlandish or cloying. Every donut still hand-crafted with misfits and imperfections, and prizing freshness and process above all. We have been serving Huntington Beach for fifty years. It is a local destination. Beach-goers stop by on their way to catch sun and waves. Locals use the space as their home away from home. There is something about that small, intimate, donut-diner coffee shop that pulls people together with a sense of belonging, where everyone’s personalities seem to fit together, like a friendship jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps that is why old-timers stay, and newcomers return. We see a tussle between new and old, hip and hardened. What unites everything is fifty years of history, people who have come and gone through our doors for those traditional flavors.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I am a big foodie! I love exploring new cafes and restaurants. I would kick off the week long food adventure with a stop at Kean Coffee Artisan Roasters. I love their fresh dark roast coffee. Then head over to Haute Cakes Caffe in Newport Beach for their haute buttermilk cakes, their version of the fluffiest, most buttery pancakes. Spend an afternoon soaking up the sun on Balboa Peninsula. Finally, dinner at Pizzeria Mozza. They have a wide selection of wood fired pizzas, salads, and decadent desserts. A visit to OC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to The Bruery. A craft brewery serving up some very flavorful IPAs and specialty beers. I am so impressed with their craftsmanship that we came together and collaborated to produce Crème de la Crème, a donut flavored beer inspired from The Donuttery’s crème brûlée donut. Other places I would take out-of-towners are Plums Cafe in Costa Mesa; Outpost Kitchen, Costa Mesa; and Phnom Penh Noodle Shack in Long Beach.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My staff at The Donuttery 100% and our local community. I couldn’t have done it without the support from our team and the kindness and loyalty of our community.
Mara Serrano, Celeste and Julian @letsdodessert, Michael G. Ngo.