The first thing I'm told when I set foot in Portland, ME, this week is, "You have to try a potato doughnut."
"What's a potato doughnut?" you might ask? Good question—I have no idea, either. So I make my way, starving, to the center of downtown Portland and find The Holy Donut, the mecca of the potato doughnut. I walk right up, tingling with excitement, and find that it's...closed. I check my watch—only 1 p.m.!—and a kind local passing by takes pity on me and explains that The Holy Donut closes its doors as soon as they sell out. "Better luck next time, kiddo!" (Real quote.)
Not one to be defeated, I wake up early the next morning and promptly return. But to my growling stomach's dismay, the line is already out the door—so I distract myself by tracking down Leigh Kellis, the owner, and asking for The Holy Donut 101. We pull a few chairs out onto the sidewalk, accompanied by Kellis's young daughter, gooey doughnut in hand, and start from the beginning.
A Hole in the Market
Leigh Kellis started making donuts five years ago in her kitchen after an unsatisfied, relentless craving for donuts hit her. While that's a feeling we can probably all relate to, Kellis decided to actually do something about it. "I wanted good donuts," Kellis tells me, "but I couldn't find any that fulfilled the need for good ingredients, good quality, and deliciousness—so I started making them myself." What started with 12 doughnuts a day rapidly grew to a million doughnuts a year, 12 employees, two locations, and a doughnut revolution in Portland, Maine.
"Potato bread is delicious for a reason. Gnocchi is delicious for a reason. Potatoes makes the doughnuts velvety and delicious." –Leigh Kellis
The Holy Donut makes everything from scratch with top quality ingredients. "It's the old-fashioned grandma way, which I think is kind of unusual nowadays," says the Portland native. "Most doughnuts are made in a factory where they use a mix and add water, but we like to do it the artisanal, hand-shaped way. They taste better when they're made with good ingredients, and you feel better about eating them, so it's kind of a win-win situation."
Potato Meets Doughnut
So where did the idea to use potatoes as the base ingredient stem from? "A friend suggested using potato, and I realized it really does make everything better," Kelli says. "Potato bread is delicious for a reason. Gnocchi is delicious for a reason. Potatoes makes the donuts velvety and delicious. We also do a sweet potato donut, which is my favorite, though the sea salt chocolate is probably the most popular."
"My favorite was the lobster one!" her daughter chimes in, still blithely munching on the aforementioned sea salt chocolate donut as I silently take note that the line has finally died down. "Yes, we made a lobster donut a few years ago just for the heck of it," Kellis laughs. "We took a donut and filled a pocket inside with herbs, butter, and lobster. It was incredible, but not sustainable for mass production. However we still do a bacon cheddar donut that's similar and also ridiculous, filled with crispy bacon and cheddar."
Getting the Numbers Right
I learn from Kellis that there's a lot more that goes into a bakery's day-to-day planning than you might think. "We forecast based on yesterday's sales, the weather, the season, the day of week—everything," Kellis explains. "We have a bunch of crystal ball factors and we try to get it about right, because nobody wants to throw away 15 dozen handmade donuts, and nobody wants to be 15 dozen donuts short at 12:00 o'clock, either. We've had both—it's insanity no matter what."
The Doughnut Success Factor
"Thankfully, donuts works for all demographics, all ages, and all seasons," Kellis says, pointedly looking at the amount of people walking in and out of the doors. "It's a beautiful food that people want all the time. We have a huge influx of people in the summer in this neighborhood, so business boosts a little, but what's better than a coffee and donut on a summer's day?" After greedily sampling the triple berry, the coconut, and the sea salt chocolate potato donuts I can wholeheartedly agree—absolutely nothing.
Learn more about The Holy Donut at theholydonut.com or visit one of their two bakeries in Portland, ME!