A trio of STL donut makers take the trend to new heights.
Donuts are certainly nothing new on the culinary scene—after all, they were handed out as an all-American greeting to immigrants landing on Ellis Island. Now, the trend is taking off in new ways in St. Louis, with funky flavors and toppings taking the treat well beyond its breakfast pastry roots. In the past year, artisanal donuts have risen everywhere from traditional brick-and-mortar shops to pop-up events and food trucks.
The Night Strangers
Born from a Kickstarter campaign and widely hyped for months on social media, Strange Donuts had a strong following before its doors even opened in October 2013. Inventive donuts with often cheeky names like the Butterfinger-laden Bart’s Revenge, long-john-style Fat Steve and peanut-butter-and-banana-pudding-loaded Fat Elvis are found behind the counter. On the weekends, the shop teams up with local restaurants for late-night “Stranger” creations like pizza “dones” with Pi Pizzeria and a turkey, cranberry stuffing and sweet potato glaze donut with Pappy’s. “I’d seen some cool donut-shop concepts that had been done in other cities, but nothing like that here,” co-owner Corey Smale says. “I saw an opportunity and I knew that we could do it the way we wanted to do it.” That approach has worked quite well for Smale and his partner Jason Bockman, with the two expanding their concept shop to Kirkwood and Columbia, MO, this fall.
Dough on the Go
Vincent Marsden has come a long way from standing over a tiny stand mixer and 2.7-liter fryer in his kitchen. For the past year, the Vincent Van Doughnut owner has been spotted around town serving fresh gourmet donuts out of his 1960 Ford Grumman Olson step van named Clyde. “The idea to do a donut shop with elevated, artisanal-style donuts was something that I’d been sitting on for about four years,” Marsden says. “When the Strange guys came along, I thought it was a really good time because it meant that St. Louis was ready to see this stuff.” Marsden makes all of his donuts himself from scratch, in flavors like lemon lavender, chocolate salted caramel and maple bacon. Drawn to the idea of locally made donuts, restaurants including Atomic Cowboy, Alumni Saint Louis and White Box Eatery have sought to include Marsden’s donuts on their menus. After nabbing first place on the Cooking Channel’s “Donut Showdown,” Marsden says he’s scouting out spots for a brick-and-mortar location to expand production of the beloved mobile donut truck’s offerings.
Fit for a Pharaoh
About 20 years ago, Amon Aziz was looking for a donut joint in his area and couldn’t find one. He decided he’d see for himself just what it took to make a donut and discovered the process wasn’t too tricky. So, he went out on a limb to open his own shop, Pharaoh’s Donuts. Over the years, Aziz and his daughter Syeeda Aziz-Morris have crafted donuts for gas stations and corner shops in Missouri and Illinois, opening and closing a few storefronts in the area. In the spring, they opened their first retail space Downtown. You won’t find anything overly complicated here—Pharaoh’s makes old-school favorites like long johns, glazed donuts, fritters and jelly donuts. “We just stick to the traditional, old-fashioned donuts,” Aziz-Morris says. The lack of accoutrements serves the donuts just fine—for what they lack in frill, they make up for in glorious, classic flavor.