The first time Sarah Hamilton and Fiona McTaggart made donuts to sell as part of their then-fledgling business, Sourdoughnuts, they only made 100 of the deep-fried treats.
“Which now seems so funny,” Hamilton told the News on Aug. 28. “We still laugh about it, like remember when we made one (batch of dough) and we thought it was a lot of donuts?”
Now, almost a year after they sold those first 100 donuts in 15 minutes, the pair doesn’t make any less than 1,000 donuts at a time.
The process takes a minimum of 12 hours, from start to finish.
Hamilton and McTaggart show up to the kitchen in the basement of Sacred Heart Cathedral at 3 a.m. and begin the process of mixing, resting, frying and glazing. After that, they put in additional hours selling from Sacred Heart.
McTaggart said all they really do, in terms of marketing, is list dates and flavours on Sourdoughnuts’ Facebook and Instagram pages.
Otherwise, they don’t do any advertising. They don’t need to. An Instagram post is all it takes to have people lined up early outside the church, snaking down Steele Street.
And some people do buy boxes, plural (“sometimes they’re like, ‘I’m not eating all of these!’ and we’re like, ‘I don’t care!’” said Hamilton).
Part of the reason for the customer loyalty might be that the selections change every time Sourdoughnuts pops up. There are classic flavours , such as apple fritters and chocolate dips, but there are also experimental ones including kombucha glaze, peanut butter cheddar, London fog and spruce tip.
McTaggart said coming up with new glazes is one of her favourite parts of the job. She used to work at a gourmet donut place in Montreal, where flavours only changed seasonally. It’s fun testing new ideas out on people, though, she said, she and Hamilton (a trained pastry chef) aren’t always the best at predicting what will sell well.
Earlier this summer, they made a minimal number of peaches and cream, thinking it wouldn’t sell as well as the mimosa, sriracha lime and cranberry cheesecake options.
So there’s a learning curve.
Part of it was finding a space that worked. Sourdoughnuts bounced between kitchens and sales locations including Blackbird Bakery, the Legion and Hamilton & Sons Guitar Works before landing at the cathedral. Both say it’s been flexible, affordable and has all the equipment they need.
Another lesson was in offering pre-orders online for mixed boxes of half a dozen, something Sourdoughnuts introduced early. It was an easier way to figure out how much they needed to make, but also ensured the lineup moves quickly (Hamilton and McTaggart have since learned they want a new web host — right now they lose eight per cent of sales to the current host).
They’ve also started offering vegan and gluten-free donuts, and decided the pop-up model works best for them. While other local pop-ups have moved into permanent spaces (Bullethole Bagels and Wayfarer Oyster House), Sourdoughnuts will likely remain a pop-up.
“I can’t imagine having a brick and mortar donut place,” said McTaggart.
If they had to work at it every day, it would be a totally different kind of business. The overhead would be much higher. They’d have to invest in industrial kitchen equipment. And their other jobs would suffer — Hamilton is a musician and McTaggart runs clothing line Mountain Range Vintage Reproduction. When they started, Hamilton was also working at Woodcutter’s Blanket and McTaggart was at the Women’s Centre.
As well, said McTaggart, it looks from the outside as though the two are only working at Sourdoughnuts one day a week, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes buying and testing that goes on. The pop-up model is perfect for them
“It’s really great, especially for Sarah because she’s a touring musician,” said McTaggart.
“And it keeps our overhead really low because we are renting a church basement. We don’t have a retail location rent, which … they’re crazy,” agreed Hamilton.
“It seems like a lot of things are going to a kind of more flexible model,” said McTaggart. “Like businesses everywhere. People prefer to do stuff online. I think there’s a bit of an appeal to it being more of a special thing sometimes.”
“It works really great that we can do a bunch while we’re in town and kind of take a little break.”
McTaggart said she knows she and Hamilton are ready for a break, and she thinks Whitehorse is too. Sourdoughnuts has run half a dozen pop-ups since July, with the next taking place Sept. 6 (that will be the last one before December).
Pre-orders are available online at sourdoughnuts.ca
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org