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Restaurant Talk: Is 2013 The Year of the Doughnut?

by Nick Freshman January 31, 2013 at 9:45 am 2,367 43 Comments

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner of Spider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon.


Are doughnuts the new cupcake?

I have to confess that writing that line has me shaking my head. If you think restaurant professionals understand every trend, think again. A lot of us have no idea where this stuff comes from (although the nexus for the most avant garde trends seems to be Brooklyn).

While Arlington is rarely the birthplace for the latest and greatest, we certainly seem to have a knack for embracing what is once it gets here.

Temples to the cupcake trend have popped up everywhere in the DC area, with multiple cupcakeries within blocks of each other, celebrity visits (Suri Cruise, no less), and even cupcake-based TV shows. Who saw that coming? Nobody, frankly.

So how long does the trend last? Forever? Another year? I thought cupcakes would come and go a couple years back, but I was clearly wrong. And who’s to say they won’t be here forever? After all, hamburgers were a fad at one point.

But a threat has arrived: America’s breakfast workhorse is on a tear. No longer the exclusive domain of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, doughnuts have been popping up on menus everywhere—and not just at breakfast. Two places that are set to make waves this year are GBD (Golden, Brown, Delicious) in Dupont and Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken near Metro Center. The former is the latest from local trendsetters Neighborhood Restaurant Group (of Tallula and Rustico fame) while the latter is the brainchild of two local boys, one of whom (Jeff Halpern) recently played for the Caps.

With big-time backing like that, will this trend be here to stay? And should we look forward to “artisanal” doughnut shops in Clarendon? No, I don’t think so. I see the market for a place that sells only — or mostly — doughnuts having a tough time. I truly wish the best for anyone willing to take a leap of faith and start a business — I can attest to the fact that it is scary and it isn’t easy. But a doughnuts-only operation is a tough sell. The margins in our business are slim, and it often takes being able to offer a variety of products to a variety of potential customers in order to sustain your business. Krispy Kreme, in fact, is a great example: their explosive 26% growth so far this year is due in large part to the expansion of their menu far beyond doughnuts. Juice, smoothies and oatmeal — yes, oatmeal — are a big part of their turnaround.

What it takes to break even — let alone profit — in Arlington is a lot. Rents are not going down, commodity costs have been rising steadily for a couple years and it seems that wherever a fixed cost can climb, it will. You need to be busy all the time to make it; especially if your store is small and sells low ticket items. This concept seems limited; plus I wonder how much you can charge for a doughnut? I’m amazed to see what a good cupcake goes for, but what would you all pay for a doughnut? And will you buy enough to carry the business? We’ll see. I can’t imagine this trend growing as rapidly as the cupcake one did. Which isn’t to say that a couple of well-run shops won’t make it; I think they will, and I look forward to supporting them. And then going to the gym.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

  • JamesE

    2013 year of the doughnut
    2014 year of the muffin top

    • Hee-Haw

      I’m hoping the muffin stumps can make it some year.

      • ArLater

        Nah, just give them to the homeless..

        • JamesE

          Top of the muffin, TO YOU!

        • Rebecca De Mornet

          You think the homeless aren’t good enough for the tops of muffins? You want to just give them stumps?

    • FrenchyB

      Well played, sir.

  • novasteve

    Ever notice these stupid food trends only involve things that taste good and are bad for you, not something like wheatgrass?

    • SteamboatWillie

      No, have you?

    • drax

      Yeah, right, no healthy food trends out there at all.

      BTW, stop by Protein Bar, steve, it’s just opened I think.

  • Hee-Haw

    So does this mean we can look forward to $5 donuts ?

    • JamesE

      gourmet donuts, chocolate truffle lobster bacon with kobe beef infusion, $50

      • Sam

        Sam’s Corner is now Sam’s Gourmet Donuts.

      • ClarendonSkank

        I’d like a Kobe Bryant beef infusion.

    • YTK

      Wheatgrass donuts

  • James Moron

    This is a spot-on piece. When you look at the realtively low dollar, trendy joints selling cupcakes and froyo, long-term survivability seems nearly impossible. Even if the products are overpriced and expensive for what they are, and even if they are high margin (on a % basis), it still takes an extraordinary quantity of transactions to float the business. Making a gross margin of $2/cupcake seems like a great business. Until you process that you need to sell 10K/month to generate $20K in gross margin. That’s before paying employees, rent, insurance, marketing and – God forbid – a profit. I sometimes wonder if the restaurant start-up entrepreneurs really look at the numbers before launching or are clouded by the romantic notion of selling the “next big trendy thing.” And that doesn’t factor in the sleepless nights, personal guarantees and indescribable stress of being small business owner.

    • drax

      Solution to revenue problem – get a cable series called “DC Donuts” or “Donut Wars” and charge people to watch you make donuts on TV with fake drama interjected.

    • Nick Freshman

      “the sleepless nights, personal guarantees and indescribable stress of being small business owner.”

      Sounds like your speaking from personal experience; you nailed it.

      What’s tough is that the romantic notion is I think a very necessary part of the process. Without it, it can be hard to take the leap of faith. Even if you do analyze the numbers and mitigate as much risk as you can, you still have to jump in. And, once you get going, if you’re lucky enough to make it a year, the romance keeps you going. My friends think owning a bar is the coolest thing in the world until I tell them how many times I have had to unclog the toilets…

      • Frito Pie

        or empty the grease trap…

  • daniel

    Pupatella offers gourmet donut/doughnuts on the weekends… at least once flavor incorporates Nutella. I’m avoiding for now for my own waistline.

  • BBMS

    Couldn’t this have been posted later in the day? Now my 5-cup-of-coffee breakfast is not doing the trick today.

  • Sn

    Pupatella ‘s doughnuts are worth every calorie

    • cranky crankypants

      but can you deal with the whenever o’clock opening?

  • novasteve

    Donut flavored froyo.

    • EvenBetter

      Froyo-filled donuts.

      • novasteve

        Froyo filled donuts wraped in a proper slice.

  • Drunk_IrishChick

    Emmm Doughnuts then Whiskey at OSullivans

  • luke

    I just wish there were a vegan donut option around here.

  • Robert

    Doughnuts seem to be popping up more and more on brunch menus in the area. I had a couple of freshly made, gourmet flavored doughnuts last weekend at Lyon Hall. Quite good.
    The Washington Post ran an article several months ago on this trend and some of the difficulties in preparing a consistently good quality doughnut.

  • Rankin

    “And should we look forward to “artisanal” doughnut shops in Clarendon? No, I don’t think so. I see the market for a place that sells only — or mostly — doughnuts having a tough time”

    Five or six years ago if someone had suggested opening a cupcake or froyo shop you’d have said the same thing, but look at us now.

    Most restaurants – of any kind – fail, so is a doughnut place any more likely to fail than a sandwich shop, or a hamburger joint? If they sold ONLY doughhnuts maybe, but only an idiot would do that… doughnut shops are basically coffee shops with a speciality, and coffee shops have historically proved popular.

  • esmith69

    Yay for heart disease and obesity!

    • Hee-Haw

      Yay for making the choice to eat them or not !

    • Buckingham Beauty

      I’ll take that doughnut with a 32 oz. Coke, please.

      • JamesE

        diet coke, I am watching my weight.

  • GoodOmens

    The Standard in DC has tasty doughnuts to go along with their tasty liter beers….

    • SteamboatWillie

      I look forward to both at Standard when the weather warms up this spring.

  • nom de guerre

    Speaking of gourmet donuts, Sam’s Food Truck is offering the “Luther Vandros /Triple Bypass Burger” which features a half pound of hand fed, coarsely ground Waygu beef that is grilled to perfection and served between two artisan glazed donuts with a shallot aioli, two strips of thickly sliced applewood bacon, heirloom tomatoes, red onion and royal oakleaf lettuce. Only while supplies last.

    • SteamboatWillie

      Fail. Rinse. Repeat.

  • YTK

    Donuts are large hips, in the larval stage

  • DCBuff

    I was fine years ago when we had Dunkin’ located at Wilson/Jackson and Glebe/Pershing; now Pio-Pio and a Subway. Toss out these poseurs.

  • arlingtony

    Time to make the Donuts!

  • Cyrus

    Uhhh, when is it NOT the year of the donut?

  • Clancy Wiggum


  • Linda Edquist

    Go back to the 1970’s, UVA, the Diner end your meal of grilled bacon cheese dog with a grills with! Grilled glazed donut with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I would love to see that added to a menu in Arlington.


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