"Three cops open a doughnut shop," may sound like the opening phrase of a promising joke your uncle received through a listserv he didn't know he was on and feels compelled to repeat ad infinitum at family gatherings, but it's actually the first chapter in Mid-City morning hotspot Blue Dot Donuts' brief yet successful history. NOPD officers Dennis Gibliant, Ronnie Laporte and Brandon Singleton had long joked about opening a doughnut shop because, well, how funny would that be? But it wasn't until the three men asked Singleton's wife Claire if she would be part of the new enterprise that a running joke became a delicious reality.
Blue Dot recently celebrated its one-year anniversary (on April Fool's Day, lest you think the owners aren't in on their own joke) of peddling maple-bacon long johns, buttermilk cake doughnuts and more to bleary-eyed Mid-City neighbors and streetcar stop-offs alike. Business has boomed from day one and shows no signs of slowing?the cop crew is eyeing a second location as well as a possible expansion of their present one to accommodate the weekend crush of doughnut-crazed customers. With a recent appearance at French Quarter Fest and a "best meat" category win at the 2011 Po-Boy Fest for a pulled pork doughnut sandwich, Blue Dot's manager Claire Singleton has plenty to be optimistic about after a year of steady success, and, if her kitchen's creativity holds, we may be only another year away from a miraculous-sounding doughnut sandwich shop.
Three cops open a doughnut shop sounds like the beginning of a really hilarious joke?do you guys have a sense of humor about running this place?
Absolutely. They [Dennis Gibliant, Ronnie Laporte, and Brandon Singelton] had talked about doing it for a year and at first I honestly thought they were just joking. It was kind of a joke around their station that they had talked about for a while, and all of a sudden they said, "Is this something you would want to be a part of if we do it?" And I said, "Absolutely." I had a little bit of experience managing a bar and one of the business owners actually owns this property, so when they decided they were serious and this could be a potential location we all decided to go for it. At first they didn't want people to know that it was owned by police officers, not because they were embarrassed by the whole cops-and-doughnut cliché, but because they just didn't want it to draw any unnecessary attention to the place. When they first opened they did a press release and it caught on immediately that it was owned by cops. That's actually why we we got a lot of our press in the beginning, because it was owned by cops, and we just said, hey, lets make a joke of it, because it is.
There aren't too many doughnut shops like this in the city?what's your main competition?
We did our research before we opened?everybody apprenticed a little bit at other doughnut shops and we hired a doughnut maker that's been doing it almost his whole life. There are a few Dunkin Donuts around, but I don't know if there's still one downtown. There's other small doughnut shops here, but the research we did showed that for something like cake doughnuts, some doughnut shops may only have two or three different kinds, where we have almost 20 kinds of cake doughnuts. From our research we knew that by coming up with as many varieties as we could we would make ourselves unique.
So from day one we wanted to have a large variety. Here in New Orleans, people like things that are a little different and unique, and we tried to do that. When we first started brainstorming flavors, we just couldn't stop, and our doughnut maker was like, "I can do this, I can do all of this if we want to." So we did.
Any new flavors soon?
We're going to be doing carrot cake soon. Yesterday we tried a couple different flavors. We make apple fritters everyday. We tried out blueberry and strawberry fritters and the blueberry fritters were really popular. We have a cinnamon cream cheese doughnut now that we'll probably be doing that for a couple of days. We're probably going to be doing a lot of double chocolate cakes and we just installed a new oven so we can maybe plan on offering muffins too and possibly kolaches, which are like meat pastries. We're also thinking about doing pigs in a blanket with sausages and hot dogs wrapped in doughnut dough. For the first time this past weekend we made a maple bacon doughnut that was about this big [holds hands unreasonably far apart] with a layer of doughnut, a layer of maple flavored buttercream, another layer of doughnut, then a layer of the maple bacon icing on top. A customer requested it, they loved it, and everyone was staring at it in the shop, so we think that we could possibly start offering that in the future.
Any expansion plans?
We've been keeping our eye open around the city and in other areas. We definitely want to do a second location, but we're just talking about it right now; we're not actively pursuing it. We have been doing festivals recently. The French Quarter Festival, the Seafood Festival, and the Po-boy Festival this past fall?this something that we want to continue to do, so that's another way we're expanding. We won "best meat" at the Po-Boy Festival for our pulled pork sandwich, and at FQF we did a shrimp version?it's the long john doughnut, unglazed and sliced it like a piece of bread and filled with meat.
Has the maple long john been the most popular item?
It definitely gets a lot of attention but we sell more glazed doughnuts than anything?they're still number one. People buying doughnuts for work and not sure what to get know they're safe by just getting a dozen glazed, so we definitely go through more glazed than anything. Chocolate glazed and chocolate covered are also extremely popular. I think a lot of people have found that they like cake doughnuts when they've never even had them before, so they're popular too. Our buttermilk is really popular. I love cake doughnuts. I grew up less than a mile away from an apple farm that made apple cider doughnuts, so I grew up on those cake doughnuts, with cinnamon sugar. That's still my favorite.
It seems like you have a pretty cohesive group, but was it rocky in the beginning, what with all the challenges of small business ownership?
No, honestly, our business has grown from day one. It's getting more attention and we have yet to do any paid advertising, which I think is a pretty good accomplishment. We're right on the streetcar line too, so that helps. The conductors are big fans and they actually direct passengers to us, which is the kind of advertising you just can't pay for.
The first doughnut maker we hired had been [making doughnuts] since he was 13 years old; he learned from his father. He helped us through all of the kitchen aspects and when we were unsure of how to do new things, he assured us that he could them, and he could. We wouldn't have been able to do it without him. We have a new doughnut maker now who's 21, just graduating from culinary arts school. He worked in his uncle's pastry shop since he was a kid too, so he's been doing it forever too. So the kitchen has always been good. We always knew that we had a quality product because we were happy with it. That's been one thing that we were sure we had through all of the little challenges.
The size of this shop, though, has been a challenge. I don't know if you've been here on the weekends, but it gets really crowded really fast. Weekday mornings we can get pretty busy between 7 and 9, but every weekend we're finding that we have a line out the door, almost to the sidewalk, for hours at a time. We wish that we could have more seating. We can only fit about four employees behind the counter without it becoming counter-productive. That's been our biggest challenge. We've actually expanded the kitchen. The spa behind the shop gave us one of their rooms so we expanded the kitchen and cut the walls out into their massage rooms to make the kitchen bigger. but other than that new space, but we can't expand any more unless we get another location.
How do people react when you run out of doughnuts?
A lot of people don't understand that it takes almost four hours from the time they start mixing the dough until the doughnuts come out. It's always difficult trying to figure out the demand for how much we should make of each flavor. We do occasionally sell out, maybe three or four times a month we do sell out early and we close early if we sell out. We try to make enough of each flavor, but sometimes you just can never tell. Sometimes you get someone who really likes something and will order two dozen of that flavor and that's all we have for the day, so it's not always practical to start making more because they might not be ready until two in the afternoon. We keep track of what we start with and what we end with every day, we've tried to attach formulas to it, but it's just talking to the employees, seeing what they get from customers, what customers are asking for that we don't have. We always try to have glazed.
Have people clamored for a flavor that you don't have yet?
We do get a lot of suggestions?any type of candy, any type of cereal, maple bacon cake ... so nothing surprises me.
Do you have any eventual Jazz Fest plans?
Maybe, but there's a lot of logistics because we can't make the doughnuts on site at the festival?they have to be made here ahead of time. FQF was Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Friday, Saturday, Sunday are also our busiest days here, so we actually had the kitchen staff coming in at three in the afternoon the day before and having people working 24/7 making the long johns for all the sandwiches. We probably wouldn't be able to do Jazz Fest without a bigger kitchen space, so we'll probably stick with the smaller festivals for now. The owners actually like to do it themselves?they were the ones at the festival.
Any expectations for the coming year?
I hope that by the end of the year we have a new location. We've found interest from other law enforcement officers, believe it or not, who want to maybe franchise or help us out with a second location and we thought that would be interesting to maybe have other law enforcement officers own other locations and keep the trend going.
We've looked at Uptown, at the Westbank?there's a lot of people on the Westbank saying they don't have anything like this over there, that they have to come over here to get doughnuts. We looked at a place on the North Shore, but none of us is too familiar with business on the North Shore so we'd have to do some research. It's mostly location?we'd like a bigger place so we could offer the sandwiches we make at the festivals for lunch.
· Blue Dot Donuts [Official Site]