Sweet Spot: Hole lotta love

Vancouver's doughnut renaissance 34 years in the making

As a kid growing up in East Vancouver, Vince Piccolo knew a fresh doughnut by the smell. He recalls being in elementary school: Down the street on Commercial [Drive], all the kids would line up outside this doughnut factory. The great thing was, you smelled the fresh doughnuts.

Best known for heading up coffee roaster 49th Parallel, Piccolo went back to his East Van roots last June when he opened Luckys Doughnuts on Main Street. I wanted it to smell like heaven when you walk in the door.

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And boy, does it. Walking into Luckys, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and coffee is so intoxicating that youd be forgiven if you didnt notice the exposed brick walls, ample seating, and one of the strips best patios.

Beyond the smell, theres a feast for your eyes: gnarled and knobbly French crullers, impeccably glazed orange honey pistachio rings, square PB&J doughnuts stuffed with housemade jam. But, says Piccolo, Im amazed that our classic old-fashioned by far the most popular. Its the dipping doughnut.

Call it old-fashioned, or call it tradition. At Lees Donuts, Betty Ann and Alan Lee have been making doughnuts since August 1979. One of the original tenants of the Granville Island Public Market, the Lees left lives as civil servants, and opened their shop on a shoestring. We built the whole thing from the ground up. We laid the floor ourselves, my grandmother and [me], says Betty Ann.

Ive been known to make a pilgrimage to the Market just for a Lees jelly doughnuts. Theyre the real deal: gently fried, fluffy and slightly yeasty, the outside sparkling with sugar, the inside bursting with scarlet jam. It seems my devotion isnt uncommon. Some of our customers are now in their 80s, and weve got their kids and grandkids still coming, says Betty Ann.

Over 34 years, little has changed. Their manager has been with them 25 years, their baker 27, and they still make their doughnuts by hand. Betty Ann says that the hot honey dip is still their most popular. [But] we do have little specialty doughnuts... In October we do a pumpkin doughnuts and gingerbread, and weve done a green tea.

If its wacky flavours youre after, then Cartems Donuterie is the place. Next to classic cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, youll find Earl Grey, Mexican mole, and bourbon-bacon. Cartems opened in February 2012 with a pop-up spot at the corner of Hastings and Carrall. It happened way faster than we planned, says Cash. We couldnt make the doughnuts fast enough.

Despite its early success or perhaps because of it, Cartems initially drew protests from some of the same self-described poverty activists whove since focused their pickets on nearby Pidgin restaurant, calling the upscale doughnut shop an act of aggression.

Its debatable whether or not a bacon-bourbon doughnut is an act of aggression in the Downtown Eastside, but in a city riddled with cornerstore doughnuts, why would you pay $3 for one? Number one: quality. You can taste the difference, says Cash. He sources as locally and organically as possible, using Anitas flour, Avalon dairy and Rabbit River eggs. For now, Cartems doughnuts are made daily at the Woodland Smokehouse on Commercial Drive and driven to their pop-up, but Cash is working on a new space near Pender and Richards that will have both retail and production space. Hes hoping to open the new location in a few months.

Meanwhile, Piccolo is putting the finishing touches on the second location of Luckys Doughnuts/49th Parallel, at the corner of West Fourth Avenue and Yew in the old Kitsilano Coffee location. It seems that Vancouvers doughnuts renaissance is just beginning.

All this begs the question: is it doughnut or donut? Piccolo spells it doughnut; Lee and Cash opt for the latter. However you spell it, its delicious.

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