The Donut Boutique
Cantabrians have one woman’s cravings for designer doughnuts, coupled with the dream of running a small business in her adopted homeland, to thank for the sweet pleasure of having the compulsively delicious, edible delights made fresh daily on our doorstep.
Words & Images: Annie Studholme
The Donut Boutique is the home to the caviar of doughnuts. The Christchurch-based store’s doughnuts are a far cry from the traditional cinnamon and sugar-encrusted deep-fried morsels available at your nearest chip pie or even the mass-produced ones you find at the Australian and American chain stores such as Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donut, Donut King or Dreamy Donuts.
Each doughnut is lovingly hand-produced using only the freshest ingredients, created entirely from scratch daily. It boasts some 26 regular mouth-watering flavours, ranging from traditional glazed varieties to less conventional treats like Deathly Dutch, Espresso Ecstasy, Vain Vanilla and Turkish Rose, with a dynamic new creation unveiled fortnightly. They are sweet, soft and doughy; rich without being greasy; and their lumpy form dissolves into delicate crumbs with each bite.
Since opening in November 2012, The Donut Boutique has quietly set about challenging Kiwis’ perceptions of the humble doughnut, opening our eyes to a world of unlimited possibilities. And as word spreads, so too does its list of converts with the shop open from 8am five days a week and from 10am on Saturdays.
The Donut Boutique is the brainchild of Zainah Alsagoff. Originally from Singapore, Zainah moved to New Zealand with her family amidst Singapore’s well-publicised doughnut craze of the late 2000s which filled a gaping hole in its appetite for deep-fried confectionary.
While many believe them to be quintessentially all-American, doughnuts have in fact been around for centuries with almost every civilisation having some type of doughnut. For much of its convoluted past, deep fried dough was considered sacred and celebratory, and was often connected to holy days. Perhaps the earliest written mention comes from the book of Leviticus, specifying “cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried” as an offering worthy of God. The first printed recipe for doughnuts dates back to England 1803, while the hole in the centre is largely attributed to New England (north-eastern corner of the United States) sailor Captain Hanson Gregory during the mid-1800s.
America is responsible for changing the doughnut landscape forever with the invention of the first automated doughnut machine by Adolph Levitt in 1921. Seemingly overnight, the humble doughnut was transformed from a sweet treat to an everyday item, and with its rise in popularity sprouted specialist stores such as the iconic Krispy Kreme, which can now be found all over the world.
Zainah was herself somewhat of a self-confessed doughnut
junkie, who had become hooked on their unparalleled taste
and flavour from travelling abroad. “I love doughnuts. I always had them when I travelled and when speciality stores started opening up in Singapore, it was great. Then I moved to Christchurch, and there was none. I started craving them more and more, not just for myself, but they are a great gift,” she explains.
Part of her New Zealand dream was to own a small business, and after teaming up with fellow Singaporeans Jinah Green and Asmah Low, whom Zainah had met on arriving in Christchurch, they started investigating options that would utilise their different skills. With Jinah’s background in food and nutrition, and Zainah’s passion for starting a business combined with Asmah’s experience in operational and human management, perhaps unsurprisingly, food toppedtheir list. “Food had the most options and most potential,” she says. “Doughnuts were one of the first things I thought of, but I had to convince Jinah and Asmah they were the one.”
Zainah knew she was onto a winner. Although the big international chain franchises had stores in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, doughnuts weren’t readily available in Christchurch. Not only that, she firmly believed doughnuts had wide appeal. “Everyone can eat them. They are loved by all ages and genders.”
While Asmah was quickly on board, Jinah took some persuading. “I was a little apprehensive to begin with,” admits Jinah. “Starting anything new is always daunting. I am a chef, but I had been teaching in Singapore before coming to New Zealand and had never done anything like this before. In the end, it all came down to me as I’m the one that has to do all the making; I had to come up with the secret recipe. I’m not even crazy about doughnuts. I had made them before, but starting a business making them was a huge step.”
Zainah eventually won her over, and after months of
research and testing they finally had their signature recipe. They also spent countless hours looking at other doughnut businesses around the globe to see what worked best and what was likely to appeal to the Kiwi palate.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle was finding the right location to set up shop. Although post-earthquake Christchurch presented a host of new opportunities, securing the right site took time. “We got turned away many times,” reflects Zainah. Eventually they found a suitable site amongst a new development at the intersection of Barbadoes Street and Edgeware Road.
Right from the outset, Zainah had a very specific vision. While the doughnuts had to taste fantastic, it had to be about more than that. “It’s not just about the food; it’s the whole psyche that comes with it. The product has to be able to draw people in, but I wanted to create that excitement. Where I come from they not only have the variety of flavours, but they look visually stunning. I wanted all the frills,” she says.
Driven by Zainah’s meticulous attention to detail, The Donut Boutique oozes a certain sophistication right down to its gorgeous brown and lime green packaging, and it’s hard not to be blown away by the hand-decorated jewels glistening in every colour of the rainbow adorning the cabinets as you walk through the door.
But undoubtedly it’s the doughnuts themselves that keep people coming back, time after time. Unlike the larger chain stores, The Donut Boutique makes every doughnut by hand; no pre-mixes or doughnut churning machines in sight! Jinah starts mixing and rolling daily at 5am, and 4am on Saturdays. They are then fried and cooled, before Asmah works her magic, painstakingly filling and decorating each and every one. They don’t serve hot donuts, nor use artificial fillings, and where possible everything is made on site, which is reflected in the price. “We are not a franchise; it’s an entirely different product. Any doughnut straight off the fryer will taste nice, the test is how it tastes after an hour or at the end of the day. Ours will still be soft and delicious. It’s our dough that makes all the difference,” says Zainah. Their unrivalled variety of scrumptious flavours too is something to behold.
Because of its hands-on nature, the downside is that batches aren’t able to be whipped up in a flash, meaning sometimes popular flavours sell out. However, being small also allows them the flexibility to try new flavors and target doughnuts to a client’s individual needs, whether it is for an office shout, wedding, stag night, baby shower or other specialist event.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we first opened, but people came nonstop. We sold out so fast. None of us had experience with the food business so to have that kind of response was overwhelming yet encouraging, filling us with confidence. The locals particularly have been extremely supportive,” says Zainah.
Demand for their speciality doughnuts continues to increase as word of mouth travels, with occasional stalls in Ballantynes and the Christchurch Farmers’ Market helping to reach audiences further afield.
“It has really exceeded our expectations,” says Zainah. “We didn’t really expect demand to be this good. I thought it was going to be simple, but my little dream turned into much more than that. I never realised how hard it was going to be to make doughnuts from scratch and sell them, but despite the lack of experience we just jumped in. It’s been a huge learning curve and a lot of hard
work, but it’s all been worth it. It’s so satisfying seeing people’s faces light up when they try them.”
The Donut Boutique has aspirations of opening a second outlet in
Christchurch. For the moment however, all attention is focused on their flagship store, converting one person at a time while still satisfying the needs of donut lovers everywhere.