Biting into a piece of fried potato dough drizzled with glaze can be a religious experience in Portland, Maine. A visit to a funky new dive called The Holy Donut has become a weekly, or sometimes daily, ritual for customers craving a fix of flavors ranging from sweet potato ginger to roasted pistachio.
“I’m trying to convince myself it’s not a sin to eat donuts,” says regular Nathan Hagelin as he takes the first bite of the shop's seasonal apple cider flavor.
“Everybody wants it. They think they can’t have it, but we tell them they can,” says owner Leigh Kellis. Traditionally the poster child of unhealthy treats, donuts here are made with all natural colors and flavors, local Maine ingredients and no preservatives.
Kellis says she can be neurotic about food, so when she came up with the idea to start her own donut business about a year and a half ago, she decided she would only use ingredients that she’d be willing to feed her 8-year-old daughter.
“Better ingredients make you feel better, and junk makes you feel awful,” she says.
Nearly finished with her education to become a Spanish teacher, Kellis decided to pursue a different dream. She was looking to fill a void in Portland’s food scene - and to satisfy her own craving for homemade, gourmet donuts.
Far from a pastry chef, she started experimenting with different donut concoctions in her own kitchen.
“I got a bucket of oil on my stove-top and I was like, 'I hope I don’t blow my house up,'” she says.
Maine is one of the top potato producers in the country, so when Kellis stumbled upon a recipe for potato donuts, she just knew she had a hit on her hands.
She started supplying one coffee shop with a dozen donuts a day and was soon baking 100 dozen a week for local businesses and grocery stores. She opened the shop in March with a little help from her dad, who built her counter and display.
Now, six employees do everything by hand, down to rolling out the dough and hand-cutting more than 1,000 donuts a day. They rotate between 12-14 flavors daily, and Kellis is always experimenting with something new. Corn and green tea were recent flops, but apple cider and bacon-cheddar have quickly become favorites.
Insurance agent Karen Vachon, who often meets clients at “The Holy Donut,” says Portland has seen the cupcake trend come and wane, and believes Kellis in onto the next big thing.
“I think that she is leading a trend on the rebirth or resurgence of the donut,” says Vachon.
The atmosphere in the store is laid back and welcoming. To Kellis, a donut shop is a glimpse back into the old world.
“Nostalga, comfort, the smell - it’s like your grandmother’s kitchen,” she said.
But, this is your grandmother’s kitchen taken up a notch.
“What I try to offer here is good music, good colors and incredibly friendly people. Really tasty fresh products, the best coffee in town and a general sense of feeling good. It’s not just about the food it’s about the whole experience," she said.
It’s all about the taste for Scott Stafford, who stops by about twice a week.
“The flavors just pop in your mouth. If it says lemon, it’s lemon - it’s not like a hint of lemon, it’s lemon. It’s fresh flavor, right in your mouth,” he says.
Maintenance worker Anthony Leighton is in just about every morning. He appreciates that Kellis uses local and natural ingredients, and says the donuts are so unique, they're worth traveling for.
“They’re lighter, they’re fluffy, they’re chewy and they taste a lot like they’re homemade - or something that you would get at a fair and only get once a year," he says. "So, the fact that you can get that seven days a week now is pretty awesome."
For other entrepreneurs starting out with a similar business idea, Kellis says you need a mix of timing and luck, but above all, a product you believe in.
“I love doing this," she says. "I could just get on my knees and thank the universe that I get to do what I enjoy. I hope people can taste the passion."
What hometown food do you crave like crazy? Share your favorite local eateries in the comments below and at iReport.
Too expensive. Nine dollars for six donuts. That won't last long in the city of Portland. I don't know too many people who can financially support that in the area, but good luck in your first year.
Well here it is 2014 and I paid $12 for 6 donuts and they were OMG delicious. And the line was long in one of it's two locations.
They're not claiming the donuts as health food, they're just saying it's a less processed, less fake version. Of course donuts aren't the best food for you but a donut for breakfast once or twice a week, especially one made from real ingredients, is better than half the stuff out there for breakfast.
I just moved to Maine from Charlottesville. My house in C-ville was only half a block from Spudnuts! That place is practically an institution. Happy to have the Holy Donut now that I live in Portland. Dark chocolate sea salt is my favorite.
I miss donuts, not a single donut bakey in the entire stupid city. Just Dunkin and crappy grocery store donuts.
And what the hell happened to Cinnabon and Cinnamonster? Not a single one in the entire state even though Cinnamonster is a freakin Colorado company. Shameful.
I love Dunkin. Their French crullers in particular.
the lighthouse donuts on indian rocks beach wins still
Spud Nuts , Richland Wa–fantastic
wait a minute – so these are gluten free???
man, i haven't had a donut in years, that would be awesome!
According to the recipe I followed in the link, good old regular flour seems to be used, but I am sure there is a way.
I visit The Holy Donut on occasion, and while their basic recipe does use flour, they also serve gluten-free donuts. I suppose if you hit their Facebook page and inquire, they might offer the gluten-free recipe.
I never knew there were any other kind of donuts, besides spudnuts, until I was in my 20's.
what's the calorie and fat content?
Who cares...................your'e eating a donut, not spinach!
I think jjdecor's point (and a valid one) is they talk a lot in the article about how it's feel good food, how there are no preservatives or artificial ingredients, no junk, and that these better ingredients will "make you feel better."
The customers cited in this article who are eating these donuts daily will be doing their body harm by consuming so much fat and sugar, regardless of how natural the ingredients are.
that's funny :)
Check out Gordough's donut trailer in Austin, TX!
You are so right I went to visit my brother and he took me there.....OMG...OMG.. had the flying pig.
I live in the Portland area and can say that the donuts at Holy Donut are OUTSTANDING. Love the Chocolate Sea Salt!! And the creative use of Maine loved products (Allen's Coffee Brandy and Moxie) is so fun.
ROFL... wrong Portland, wrong side of the country!
Are they doing mail order yet? If not, its an opportunity! Can see where the issue of no preservatives may be problematic, but if they will mail, I'll order some to be sent to California!
There's a Spudnuts in Charlottesville, Virginia. BEST POTATO DONUTS I HAVE EVER TASTED!!!!! There are many others in the U.S. – you can find them here.... http://spudnutshop.com/
Crap, now I need to go back to Portland again. Love the food scene there!
So the dough is made with potatoes? I'm confused...
Yep...flour can alse be made from a starchy vegetable instead of wheat. You should also try yucca bread....good stuff!
see also: potato bread. Best thing to use for hamburger buns!
Not sure what recipe the author is using, but I grew up on potato donuts, and my Mother always made them with what seemed like traditional ingredients, PLUS the addition of, I believe, a cup of leftover mashed potatoes! Probably a Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe. They were just wonderful, and crisp up beautifully in the oil, have a lovely texture - I suppose something like a "cake donut" only much better! Suggest you search for recipes, read them over, and pick a few to try. Good luck!
have you ever tried sweet potato biscuits? Make regular baking powder biscuits and use less milk and add in a cup of mashed sweet potato. Delicious with blackberry or raspberry jam!
There is NOTHING that raises your blood sugar level faster than potato – the starch is very quickly turned into sugar in the digestive system – just sayin'
Not so fast! New potatoes have a starch that is closer to amylose in structure than more mature potatoes, and they are somewhat less glycemic. Just sayin!!! Ha HAAAA!!!
It doesn't matter. The problem is the trans fats and no matter what kind of flower you use, anything that you have to cook in highly heated oil will be loaded with them.
Not so fast! Just saying!
I mean, you know.
I love spudnuts! I learned how to make them from my mother and they are a fall tradition at our house.
Years ago there was a potato donut called Supdnuts. IThey had franchises allove the country. Did the people in Maine steal the recipie?
Yes, there was a Spudnuts in Farmington, NM. I don't know if the whole franchise went out, but this particular place closed years ago... Those were some delish donuts, too!
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