Glam Doll Donuts' tasty spin on the sweet treat
On my first attempt to hunt down Glam Doll Donuts, the new specialty bakery that's making waves on Eat Street, I missed the storefront entirely. Twice. Based on its name, logo, and retro pin-up aesthetic, I was expecting something that looked more like the exterior of Via's Vintage than a dormant deli, which is exactly what this place once was. "Strudel & Noodle, it was called," says Glam Doll co-owner Teresa Fox. "It was this passion project for the Black Forest Inn's owners, and it just unfortunately never took off." Maybe the space was unlucky for its previous occupants, but from the looks of it, Glam Doll's sugary sparkle has already turned that luck around in a big way. The identifying signage and awnings will go up soon, but in the meantime you can just follow the smell of bacon, chocolate, and rising dough down Nicollet to the only storefront that has a line out the door. "We are just in love with Minneapolis right now," Fox says of the early buzz. "The response has been overwhelming. On our grand opening night party I think we made and sold around 200 dozen doughnuts, which is just insane."
Those kinds of sales are a testament to Fox and Arwyn Birch's sound business plan and even more so to the spot-on instincts they had when Glam Doll was in its infancy. "It really all started on this trip we took to Portland," Birch explains. "We went to Voodoo Doughnuts and waited like a half-hour in line for a doughnut at midnight, and we were both just floored. Not by the doughnut itself — that was only okay — but just by the way people were responding to the concept. We started to think the same kind of thing could really work here."
The best friends spent the next year doing research, writing proposals, obtaining the right permits, and doing lots of at-home testing of various recipes in their modest Minneapolis kitchen, many of which started with Fox's grandmother's basic cake doughnuts. "We did briefly think about starting out as a truck, but we do everything by hand, so when we realized we would still have to have our own commercial kitchen space to proof the doughnuts and fry them and everything, it didn't seem worth it. It would have actually cost us more in the long run."
Fox now says the truck is part of their long-term expansion project, though at the rate Glam Doll is already going, that plan's time line may have to be moved up significantly to keep up with demand. "We are getting a lot of orders for weddings, requests to do bachelorette parties, stuff like that. We will definitely be trying to do a State Fair booth this summer, and we want to be a presence at any local festivals. That culture, and the whole creative community, is really close to what we feel like our store is about."
They sell only doughnuts and Intelligentsia coffee and espresso (and plan to keep that tight focus), but Fox and Birch obviously put the rest of their planning energy into their interior design. "We wanted a place where people could hang out. Somewhere with some entertainment value," says Fox, hence the vintage photo booth, comfy and ample seating, and space for live music and comedy, which the owners hope to be adding soon. "We're both very creative. We both like music and fashion. We're pretty crafty," says Birch, who designed and sewed pieces for their '50s-inspired uniforms. "We wanted to combine all of that and make a place where we really wanted to work. The hope is that other people would want to be there too."
The result of their efforts is almost like a girly version of what Voodoo Doughnuts does (sans all the cereal and crude shapes): playful, indulgent treats that appeal to the customer who "wants something different," served until the wee hours (1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday) in a hip, artistic environment. From the hand-painted tiles and original art on the walls to the sculptural glitter countertops in the bathroom and retro lighting fixtures, the '50s diner-slash-'90s-coffeehouse vibe they were going after has attracted plenty of people, plus one group they didn't expect.
"Initially we wanted to be on Eat Street because of all the bars and the fact that we're doing the late-night thing, so our idea was to be the sort of inverse after-bar. Like a place to come, kind of calm down, and refuel," says Fox. "But what we didn't think of when we secured this location was how close we are to MCAD. It's been great, because the students want to come in and get coffee and hang out, but they're kind of unknowingly doubling as our publicists with the way they flood the Instagram feed." To borrow an obnoxious phrase from the corporate world, that's just good synergy.
Though Birch and Fox seem to have a great vision for what's to come, they've also never lost sight of what their business is really about: doughnuts. Glam Doll tends to lean toward more unconventional combinations like a peanut-buttery cake doughnut with sweet-spicy sriracha glaze (the Chart Topper) or a raised turnover filled with muenster and provolone cheese topped with curry icing (the Girl Next Door). But Fox says she understands the importance of offering the straight-up classics too. So if you're not too keen on your doughnut entering sandwich territory, you can still get crunchy apple fritters (the Pinup Girl), plain icing with sprinkles (the Starlet), and doughnuts filled with fresh raspberry curd (the Femme Fatale).
It's smart to stay focused and build your brand around one item. It helps to give you a clear identity, which Glam Doll has in spades, from the name to the shocking-pink pastry boxes to the winged eyeliner and blunt bangs of the employees. But pigeonholing can also be dangerous, especially if the single dish or single ingredient you built your house around is something trendy. So I had to ask the hard question: What do you do if the doughnut trend passes?
"That is definitely something we thought about," says Fox. "It's the reason we did so much research before we started. But I think the main pull we have that will differentiate us is our late hours." Birch's convictions are as sweet and pure as the viscous glaze she makes daily: "I have faith in the staying power of the doughnut," she says. "It's not going anywhere."
And hopefully, neither is this promising, sweet new hangout.
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