P2P Picks: District Doughnut

DSC_0326From the moment you enter the signature teal door, you know this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill doughnut shop. In fact, this is the farthest thing from it. With all the little touches and details present in this unique customer experience, it is readily apparent that the team behind the new District Doughnut on Barracks Row takes pride in what they do. They truly do love it, and they want you to love it too.

As you walk through the doorway, the positive energy in the bright, light-filled shop immediately infects you. You’re not only greeted by what can only be described as a heavenly smell (seriously, angels), but also by a warm, friendly face behind the counter (or even Greg, one of the co-owners himself, right at the door!). Your eyes are immediately drawn to the simple, no-frills-necesary display of each of the custom doughnut flavors available that particular day, and to the case chock-full of them just alongside. As you turn to take in the other store sights, you can’t help but notice the giant, colorful “#DOUGHFACE” wall sprinkled with action-shot photos of customers enjoying these amazing treats, in all their sometimes-messy glory. While you pay and wait for your coffee and doughnut(s) of choice, you can peer into the kitchen through a window divider and catch the process in action (which was obviously my favorite part. I mean, I didn’t hate eating them either, but let’s stay focused here).

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Although everything about the new District Doughnut storefront is so perfectly put together now, the business itself didn’t exactly start that way. In fact, while chatting with Greg and Christine, the head pastry chef (who is a mastermind, by the way, and super fun), I learned that District Doughnut had very humble beginnings, actually executing the preparation for their first big event right out of Christine’s home. Yup, 700 doughnuts for a large-scale DC “taste” event were fried right up in an apartment kitchen. Space? Nope. You guys know what most kitchens around here look like. Manpower? Nope. There were just a couple of them taking on this task. Equipment? Nope. They used a wok to fry the doughnuts. A WOK. I mean, that pretty much blows every excuse I’ve ever made for not seriously pursuing baking out of the water. “I don’t have all the right tools;” “I don’t have the oven space;” “There’s no way just little old me can make that many cupcakes.” Nope. Uh uh. No dice. Thanks, guys.

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The team eventually moved to Union Kitchen as they expanded, but soon outgrew even that. Not hard to believe given how amazing their product is. Once people started tasting these doughnuts, it really was just a matter of time. The thought, time and energy put into each and every one is unbelievable. First of all, the dough. I’m convinced it makes all the difference. Christine spent years perfecting it, trying new things until she figured out her secret (she may have shared it with me, but my lips are sealed!). The dough differs depending on the doughnut, with some minor modifications enabling it to best complement the texture and flavor elements in each particular one. Then there are the flavors themselves. I knew Christine and I were pseudo baking soulmates when I heard her approach to creating flavor concepts: “What’s your favorite dessert? I’ll make it a doughnut.” That happens to be the very approach I take in my baking, and – let me tell you – it works WONDERS for Christine and the District Doughnut team. I mean, with flavors like Key Lime, Double Chocolate Cake, Lemon Meringue, Cannoli, and Caramel Apple Streusel, I’m pretty sure she’s onto something. And that’s not even the half of it. The particular day I was in the shop, they had Key Lime, Dulce de Leche, Brown Butter and, my personal favorite thus far, Cookies & Cream.

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While they’re beyond delicious – and gorgeous, to boot – these things do NOT come easily. And when you’re cranking out 1200-1500 doughnuts a day, it can be a little intense. Start to finish, the process for producing these babies takes about 6 hours. First, they scale out the ingredients and make the dough. The dough then “bulk proofs” (I learned that “proof” is a fancy word for “rise”) for about 90 minutes, and is then rolled, cut into doughnuts, and placed in the proofer (a contraption that sort of looks like an oven and refrigerator in one). The temperature in the proofer is around 100 degrees, and the doughnuts remain in there for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until properly set. Once they’re risen the perfect amount, the doughnuts are popped into the fryer, where they’re fried for about 45 seconds on each side and then promptly removed to racks to cool. After a few minutes of cooling, they’re transferred to trays for filling and garnishing. After that, they’re popped in the display case until they find a home with what is sure to be a very happy customer. They don’t mess around with quality control either. If the dough isn’t right, they won’t serve it – no ifs, ands or buts. I actually witnessed this in action when a batch of the dulce de leche dough went wrong. They tossed those doughnuts right in the trash and had to start over. It caused a slight delay in the availability, but it’s standards like these that separate District Doughnut from the rest (and also gave me a chance to see the entire process start to finish!).

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As if the doughnuts themselves weren’t enough, there are so many signature details that make District Doughnut so unique. First of all, the “#doughface” hashtag. Genius. Everyone knows that stuffing your face with a delicious doughnut isn’t necessarily the most becoming look, so they made a “thing” out of it, inviting customers to “show us your doughface.” They even have fun t-shirts with the slogan, which I was beyond thrilled to walk away with. They also have great mugs and other branded items that you can peruse while you’re there. District Doughnut also boasts Compass Coffee, which really is great. The best signature detail, though? The service. The staff is so warm and friendly and enjoyable to interact with – you’d never know they were up literally all night baking just for the opportunity to provide you with your morning coffee and treat. You really almost feel like they’re your neighbors, which makes this such a great gathering place for the Capitol Hill community.

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I really can’t say enough about District Doughnut. Not only do they produce an amazing product with a fantastic customer experience, but they are such a pleasure to be around. They graciously opened up their kitchen to me and let me hang around for nearly 4 hours observing, chatting, learning, and taking pictures of their gorgeous doughnuts. I was blown away by how inviting and wonderful everyone was, and was so thankful to have had the opportunity to have such an inspiring, motivating, educational and just plain fun experience on a Sunday morning. I’m convinced that it’s these little things that set places like this apart from competitors. 

All I have to say is “Dunkin who?” “Krispy what?” It really is apples and oranges (or, in this case, muffins and scones?), because they honestly can’t be compared. District Doughnut has managed to take doughnuts to a whole new level. A trip to their shop isn’t just a “doughnut run,” it’s an experience. And these aren’t just doughnuts, they’re gourmet desserts. But don’t take my word for it, stop by and try one (or six). You won’t be disappointed – I promise. And tell them P2P sent you!

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District Doughnut is located at 749 8th Street SE. They’re open from 7am-2pm Monday-Friday, and 8am-3pm Saturday-Sunday. Custom orders available by emailing orders@districtdoughnut.com. More information at http://www.districtdoughnut.com. 

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