For all its varied incarnations, fried dough has one consistent characteristic: an ability to get people rabidly excited. Since long before the advent of the Cronut, one Martha’s Vineyard bakery has been capitalizing on mankind’s unbridled enthusiasm for deep-fried pastry with its after-hours operation locally known as Back Door Donuts.
Janice Casey and partner Rita Brown have owned and operated the Gourmet Café & Bakery since 2001, when they jumped at the opportunity to buy the place despite having no prior industry experience, “It’s been quite a learning curve!” says Casey.
Customers line up well into the night for fresh-from-the-fryer donuts
Preparing dough for yeast-risen donuts
Warm, Crispy, and Light Apple Fritters
Traditional Glazed Donut
A big part of that curve was the back door donut—a casual way to move some product on the side started by the previous owners who served last-call revelers donuts and fritters fresh from the deep-fryer, which they kept firing late into the night. A savvy business owner, Casey was not about to turn away these pastry zealots. And so, with the experience and skills of Pastry Chef Rafi Jabri, Casey and Brown turned the after-hours demand for donuts into a Vineyard folk-tradition and full on feeding frenzy at the exit of their kitchen. They dubbed this formalized side-business Back Door Donuts.
“Everything’s done by hand,” says owner Casey, “they’re fried right then and given hot and fresh to the customers. I hear people say ‘waiting in line is part of it’, and they’ll wait 45 minutes for a donut.” For Back Door Donutters, eating a donut hours after it’s been fried is blasphemy.
Donuts areMartha’s Vineyard’s great equalizer. Hungry tourists and locals alike have come clamoring in the dark of night from all across the isle for more than 12 years now. Jabri, a Jordan-born and England-trained pastry chef who calls the Vineyard home, leads a nocturnal crew who produce cinnamon-sugar, glazed, coconut, and chocolate dipped donuts, as well as the prized apple fritters. Last season saw the debut of a new menu item dubbed The Charlie: a hot donut with a scoop of ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. Earlier this year Jabri added a honey-glazed donut, which is dipped in Callebaut chocolate and rolled in buttercrunch.
Much like a pop-up, this business-within-a-business is an efficient use of existing resources made possible by the serendipity of summer onMartha’s Vineyard. The bakery now has two sets of hours—regular operations in the front are from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm, while doughnuts are available round back from 7:30 pm to 1:00 am. All of the back door items are already available on the daytime menu, and the kitchen staff recruited for the season bakes around the clock. Throw in someone to man the back door and handle the cash-for-dough transactions and you’re hot to trot. And Given the popularity of the tandem businesses over the last few years--lines poor out both doors--and the write-ups in The Washington Post, New York Times, and regional papers from Boston to Timbuktu, it seems to be a pretty effective way to make some dough.