Walking into the Sssdude-Nutz doughnut shop in Dinkytown, customers will first notice the beaming smile on the man behind the bakery case, then bright colors of the chalk art left by previous customers along the side wall, the cheers from those huddled around the video game screen, and of course the sugary sweet smell of the doughnuts.
Then they’ll probably notice the oddly shaped pastries in the case.
Los Angeles native, Bradley Taylor had trouble finding doughnuts that he liked in the Twin Cities, so he decided to make his own. And just to set them apart a bit more, he shaped them into squares.
But Taylor’s quirky doughnut dream got a wake-up call last November when Tim Horton’s announced they would be setting up shop just two doors down.
“All I really knew was that they are like a Canadian Dunkin doughnuts,” says Taylor.
The competition has been open for a few months, but Taylor says it still may be too soon to see the lasting effects of the corporate entity next door. At the same time, the customer base brought in by the alumni run shop has remained steady.
University senior, Tyler Karkula, says he likes stopping by the shop in between classes rather than walking back to his place.
“Might as well grab a doughnut, sit down, maybe get some work done and enjoy some decent music,” says Karkula.
Karkula is just one of Taylor’s many student regulars, and Taylor believes that is what will keep him ahead of his corporate competition.
“I think we will always have a strong student base because [corporate stores] can’t move like us,” says Taylor.
He has the freedom to make snap decisions without having to go through any legal or human resources corporate hoops. He can put a sign out front that reads, "Our donutz are better than Molly." He can serve doughnuts created to resemble the latest celebrity off to rehab, like the Lindsay Lohan (a chocolate-Sriracha doughnut covered in bacon).
He recently considered naming a doughnut the Fuck Trump, but has yet to find a flavor to truly capture the outcry against our new president. Taylor says the names of his usual stock, such as the Ferrari Fat Boy, Girls Like Beyonce, and the Gay 90s, are something customers will remember. They make a more lasting impression than the standard “blueberry cake” or “chocolate glazed.”
Though Taylor’s square-shaped doughnuts do come in classic flavors such as chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter, the shop is more known for playing with ingredients like cherry amaretto, crushed cookies, and fruity pebbles cereal.
The doughnut business was not in Taylor’s original game plan. And with no previous baking experience, it was a hard learning curve.
“I can cook but baking and cooking are different,” says Taylor. “Once you put a cake in the oven, you’re committed. It’s not like you can put a little bit more salt in there.”
After a failed attempt at a doughnut delivery service and some success with pop up shops, Taylor ponied up his own money to open a permanent storefront right in the heart of Dinkytown. He put up a sign and watched as customers entered the shop with a nagging curiosity about the name.
Taylor explains it thusly: Growing up in Compton, California, “dude” was a natural part of his vocabulary, but he had a retainer throughout high school which created a lisp and added sss’s to many of his words.
Instead of giving power to those who made fun of his speech, he owned his “sssdudeness” and began using that spelling in his everyday life. So when it came time to name his doughnut shop, sssdude seemed like a natural fit.
As for that innuendo-laced “nutz” on the end, Taylor says it makes the name sound enough like “doughnuts” to get his point across. It certainly makes his shop stand apart.
And as an independent company, completely funded out of his own pocket, he needs that flair to be able to compete. Facing a corporate entity is always scary, he says. But his way of connecting with students sets him apart and ensures support from the student community in Dinkytown.
“I can go to a frat party and be very well received and welcomed, to market my stuff,” says Taylor. “They can’t.”