When Union Square Donuts first opened in February 2013, it was a tiny weekend-only operation in the front of a shared kitchen space, Kitchen Inc., located across from Target on the outskirts of Somerville's Union Square. There were long lines and quick sell-outs immediately, and just two months later, the company moved to the other side of the square, selling donuts out of Cafe Tango on Bow Street several mornings a week as well as adding regular farmers' market and pop-up locations. Now, Union Square Donuts is moving once again, this time into its very own space just a couple doors down from the Cafe Tango location, taking over the former Lovely Spot convenience store.
Co-owner Josh Danoff chatted with Eater about the upcoming move and what it'll mean, from expanded hours to a bigger product line (and most importantly, more donuts). They've just started removing the remnants of the convenience store and ripping up the space, a sunny box that will soon be "all things donut."
What can you say about the new space?
First, we're incredibly excited to be getting our own space. I think that the route that we've taken to our own space is non-traditional, essentially starting off in a test kitchen, a shared-use kitchen, then moving up the street to the current location where it's no longer a test kitchen, but we're still sharing the space, and next, into our own space. On one hand, it makes perfect sense and is completely logical and occurred in the right order, but then on the other hand...it basically has its pros and cons. It would have been incredibly nice to just start off with our own shop, but when we first started, we had underestimated how ready the Boston area was for donuts.
I go back and forth whether I would do it the same way again, but at the time, they were all the correct decisions. Having a small test kitchen — that was the right decision. Coming here for a year was the right decision. And now the new shop, without a doubt, is absolutely the best business decision that we can make. There are windows that open up to the street, it's visible, there are some nice doors, there's light, and it's basically a box that we can make into all things donut.
What's ideal about having our own open space is that we can set it up for our ideal production. In our current location, the kitchen was existing, the space was existing, and we were sharing it, so we had to kind of conform or develop our systems based on the location. With this new space, we can set everything up for the way that it's most efficient and most productive and best to make donuts. With the equipment and the set-up, we'll actually be able to save some time and use some of that extra time that people have to develop more flavors, develop more products, make more donuts.
What kind of a timeline are you looking at for opening?
The paperwork is getting submitted to the city pretty soon, so it's really just a matter of getting the permits and inspections. The contractor has already built a lot of the tables — there's going to be a lot of reclaimed wood and some pallets. We're taking old pallets and putting them through a planer, and we're going to put those on the wall. We have a nice counter that's being built, and we'll have a few seats and chairs.
Will the new shop allow for more hours?
Yeah, we'll have expanded days and hours of operation, and we'll also be able to produce more. We have not been keeping the supply artificially low. I feel like when we have donuts, it's either all or nothing for us — we're either the most popular people or not. We make people very happy when we have donuts, and we make people very disappointed when we don't. I would like to minimize the disappointment level, so we're looking at having a pretty good-sized kitchen over there. It's going to be a lot of production space. We're going to have some equipment upgrades. We're going to be getting a convection oven that we just haven't had space for over here, and so what that will mean is an expanded product line. Besides the yeast donuts, we'll also be able to do more of the savory donuts and the brioche roll, and keep your eye out for some new Union Square Donuts donut-related products.
For coffee, we're working with Counter Culture right across the way, and we're going to make the coffee program just a little louder. The way things are set up at our current shop, coffee is kind of an afterthought; it's kind of tucked away a little bit. People still get coffee, but we want people to know that we have really good coffee. We're also thinking about doing milk on tap, because what's better than coffee and donuts and milk? They're all friends.
You've just announced the introduction of a vegan donut. Will you be able to accommodate other special diets, like gluten-free?
It's not going to be a gluten-free kitchen, so in order to do that, we'd have to go to a gluten-free kitchen. Everything would have to be done over there as well as having a separate fryer because you wouldn't be able to fry those donuts in the oil from the other donuts. I think at this point it would be a little premature to put a date on if and when there would be some gluten-free donuts.
Are you still going to do the popsicles?
Yeah, we've got a dedicated spot for the popsicle machine. We don't have the capabilities to produce them here in the current space, so it may be a little lean for popsicles this summer, but then we'll come back strong once the shop opens, and then we'll be able to have them all year long.
Are you going to keep selling at farmers' markets as well
Yeah, those are definitely a part of the business model, and I think they work really well together, having both the brick-and-mortar and the farmers' markets. It can serve a number of different purposes. Especially when we go to Dewey Square, a lot of those people just don't ever get to Somerville, but they've heard of Union Square Donuts, so to find it at a farmers' market is great, and then what can happen is people will call the shop for a larger order. They'll go to the farmers' market for one thing and come to the shop for another, so the farmers' market is definitely a really important part of our overall business model.
Is there anything you think you'll miss from sharing space?
With the new space, we signed a commercial lease, and it's a long lease, and it's a financial commitment — a big commitment. With sharing, we had a year to kind of test the market to see if this was a business that was going to work or a product that was going to sell, and so I think that we were lucky in that sense to be able to have had the opportunity to sublet a place for a little while before making this jump.
Anything else you'd like to tell people?
Just that we're really excited about making more donuts. So much of this last year — I can't believe that it's only been a little bit more than a year — certainly a lot has happened. Having taken the path that we have to opening our own shop makes it incredibly exciting. It's going to be a little while until everything gets built, but when it does, the thought of being able to make so many more donuts makes me really happy.
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