Businesses are still being born during the COVID-19 crisis — even food-service businesses. But if one thing comes of this fact, hopefully it will be that, in a few years, we will all have a hard time remembering why Gabrielle Henning and Michael Milton decided to name their startup Pandemic Donuts.
Henning and Milton hatched their plan to start making doughnuts after getting laid off from their jobs running the coffee counter at Improper City, the multi-use venue that closed on March 17 along with every other bar and restaurant. Henning is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has worked as a line cook in several restaurants and was the opening pastry chef for Stowaway Kitchen, and Milton grew up in St. Louis as the son of coffee shop owners, so breakfast is in his blood. With newfound time on their hands, the two quickly nailed down recipes for yeast-risen and old-fashioned doughnuts with bright and flavorful glazes and toppings.
"I try to make them as bright and colorful as possible because you eat with your eyes first," Henning explains. "And because of my culinary background, I approach flavors with the mind of a cook."
So on any given day, you might find Key lime pie or lemon-lavender doughnuts, but the classics are available, too. "We'll always have plain glazed and chocolate sprinkle doughnuts, because a lot of people just like the basics," she adds.
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Other flavors include lemon poppyseed, white chocolate and mango, maple, cinnamon streusel and blueberry cheesecake; sprinkles, drizzles, powders and pieces of real fruit add appeal.
Milton explains that the doughnut flavors rotate weekly and the flavors for each day of the week — currently Wednesday through Sunday — are posted on the Pandemic Donuts website every Tuesday at 7 a.m., so you can order ahead if something strikes your fancy. Prices are $15 for a half-dozen and $25 for a dozen, and as a bonus, each doughnut is crowned with its own doughnut hole, so you get an extra bite for your buck. Bags of Queen City Collective Coffee beans are also available in the online shop.
Pandemic Donuts is a cottage bakery for now, offering pick-up or delivery to specific Denver zip codes listed on the website. Limited space equals limited doughnuts, so they've been selling out quickly. But Milton and Henning hope to move into a commissary kitchen soon and, eventually, to open their own brick-and-mortar doughnut cafe. The couple says their business was "born out of a mixture of love and necessity." Once they have room to grow, Henning and Milton plan to hire other industry workers impacted by the pandemic, and they're currently donating at least one box of doughnuts to a Denver hospital each week.