Parlor was started in Evansville, Indiana, by father-and-son duo Darrick and Noah Hayden. While Noah was a longtime coffee connoisseur, his dad Darrick preferred doughnuts, and the two hoped to one day combine their passions. Noah started Proper Coffee in 2015; in 2019, he and Darrick added Parlor Doughnuts, relying on a recipe inspired by Darrick's love of the croissant-style doughnuts that had become a culinary hit when Dominique Ansel's cronuts (a trademarked term) debuted in 2013. Darrick has his own trademark now: "layered doughnuts."
While influenced by Ansel's laminated doughnut approach, Parlor's take is larger, and the toppings are far less precious. Instead of a simple, precise ring, icing spills off the sides and add-ons like sprinkles, strawberries and cookie crumbles are strewn on top. Flavors include blueberry, raspberry pistachio, French toast, churro and turtle cheesecake. While crispy and flaky on the outside, the inside of the doughnut is airy and buttery.
Parlor's pastries quickly gained popularity and have since become the focus of the business, with Parlor locations selling Proper Coffee beans and drinks (the coffee is still roasted at the flagship store in Evansville).
In addition to layered doughnuts, Parlor's small menu includes such breakfast items as avocado toast and a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on an un-sugared doughnut; vegan, gluten-free and keto doughnuts; doughnut holes called "cronies," which are $0.65 each and ideal if you just need a small, sugary snack; and dog-friendly doughnuts made with ingredients like bacon grease and oats. Parlor also recently added doughnut milkshakes that allow you to mix in any doughnut on the menu.
So how did an Indiana-born business make its way to Denver? Sean Harshbarger, a family friend living in Colorado, was back in Indiana around Christmas 2019, shortly after Parlor Doughnuts opened its second location. Sean and Darrick connected and talk of the business's expansion piqued Sean's interest.
"Darrick reached out to people that he knew well and trusted to just leave a shop in their hands," Sean explains. "He reached out to me and we started chatting and I was ready for a career change. I'd had his product and been to his shops, and I love the kind of vibes that they put out. It just sounded perfect."
Colorado has been Sean's home for nearly a decade. His brother already lived in the state, so when choosing a grad school, he'd opted for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 2012 before relocating to Denver in 2013 and beginning a career in sales.
While Sean's move to doughnuts seemed to be an ideal fit, the actual opening of the Denver shop came at an interesting time. Sean and his wife Kaylin welcomed their son on February 4 of this year, and Parlor opened on February 7. "What a wild week that was," Sean says, laughing. "It was very coincidental. We were trying to open by Thanksgiving 2020, but that kept getting pushed back. We had to jump through some hoops to sign the lease but we really wanted this location. So that was pushed and then he actually came two weeks early."
But despite the fact that Sean and Kaylin couldn't be on-site on opening day, the Parlor team came through for the couple. "Darrick takes people from the Evansville store that have a lot of experience, and he'll bring them out," Sean says. "They were great."
The Aurora location is also where Sean and the "doughboys" (the name Parlor uses to refer to the team that actually fries the doughnuts) currently cook. Sean is there frying two to three days a week, and at the Lincoln Street store the other days.
Eventually, Sean says he'd like to expand to four or five locations in the Denver area and one or two in the mountains. But for now, he's getting to know his regulars (which include many dogs that like stopping by for the pup-friendly treats) and finding new ways to connect with the community, including regularly donating the day's leftover doughnuts to an organization called I Am A Human CO, which distributes them to various homeless shelters in town.
Even people without a sweet tooth will find something to enjoy at Parlor Doughnuts. But this could also be the place that can turn around any doughnut skeptics in your life, one cronie doughnut hole and honey cinnamon cold brew at a time.