Working from home isn’t quite the same when you’ve turned your house into a doughnut bakery and delivery service. But that’s exactly what happened after Gabrielle Henning and Michael Milton started Pandemic Donuts in early April. Months later — with every inch of countertop designated for business and their guest bedroom filled to the brim with boxes, trays and bowls — the couple is ready to move into a brick-and-mortar doughnut shop.
Pandemic Donuts plans to open a bakery inside Queen City Collective Coffee, at 2962 Welton Street, by December 1 or shortly thereafter. The space will give the bakers and their team room to grow their ever-evolving menu of brightly colored yeast-risen and old-fashioned doughnuts, as well as a place to expand their pastry offerings. Plus, Henning and Milton will get their house back.
The cottage-industry doughnut shop (which operates under specific Colorado regulations) was an idea born from Henning’s love of making doughnuts and her experience as a classically trained culinary chef. To her, doughnuts offer limitless opportunities to experiment with ingredients and design, and her colorful combinations quickly caught customers’ eyes on social media.
“I think people wanted to help us out,” Henning adds. The couple lost their jobs at Improper City last St. Patrick’s Day because of COVID-related restrictions (Improper City has a bar and coffee shop within its spacious building), and they started the business out of necessity. From the beginning, Milton says, “the demand was astronomical. We were selling out for the entire week in like thirty seconds online.” Pandemic Donuts immediately became an Instagram sensation.
To keep up with the demand, the couple continued to improvise. They found themselves scouring Denver grocery stores for ingredients multiple times a day. “Flour was hard [to find], but the hardest thing was yeast,” Milton says. They also had to develop a system to deliver the doughnuts safely and efficiently. But despite the learning curve, they quickly made plans to open a bakery outside of their own kitchen.
“I’ve always wanted to open a bakery," Henning explains. "But I had made up in my mind that I was never going to be able to have one."
Now the timing was right, however. “Me and Michael work really well together. He’s much more business-minded than I am. He gets the ball rolling," the baker notes.
In the spring, the couple had planned to open their own storefront with doughnuts and coffee, says Milton, whose experience in the coffee industry began as a teenager working for his family’s coffee business in St. Louis. But because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the economy, they saw a safer opportunity in pairing with Queen City Collective Coffee. The couple had developed a relationship with the owners while selling Queen City beans at Improper City. “Once we started doing doughnuts, they reached out to us to see if we wanted to share their space,” Milton recalls.
“There will be a glass wall between the Queen City space and our space so people will be able to observe and look in and see what we’re doing and see the doughnuts,” Henning explains. However, Queen City will handle all the retail. This gives the bakers unfettered freedom to create. “I want to have a creative vibe in my kitchen and be free to make whatever I want. … It keeps the job interesting,” she says.
The new retail location will offer rotating options of traditional doughnut flavors and more uniquely topped “pandemic donuts” — those that Henning developed to catch the eye of online customers. Traditional options will include plain, glazed, cinnamon sugar and maple, while pandemic combinations will range from online favorites blueberry-lavender, chocolate cream pie and raspberry cheesecake to brand-new creations. The couple plans to add an array of new pastry options such as morning buns, fritters, croissants and sweet and savory galettes, and they also hope to expand their vegan and gluten-free options.
In addition, the extra space in the store will allow Pandemic Donuts to sell its products wholesale, so the goods will be found in locations such as Bellwether and Death & Co. But they’re not going to stop doing deliveries. “There’s nothing better than having [doughnuts] delivered fresh to your house,” Milton says.