Doughnut shop frees itself of gluten issue

Sugar Shack's storefront at Leigh and Lombardy streets. (Photo by Michael Schwartz)

Sugar Shack’s storefront at Leigh and Lombardy streets. (Photo by Michael Schwartz)

There’s no sugarcoating it: Richmond’s insatiable sweet tooth has forced a local doughnut shop to make yet another on-the-fly adjustment.

Sugar Shack Donuts last weekend hosted the last of its popular vegan and gluten-free Sundays. And despite selling hundreds of the specialty treats per day, it will cease making gluten-free doughnuts altogether. Customer complaints about low inventory tempered co-owner Ian Kelley’s enthusiasm.

Ian Kelly

Ian Kelly

“Every comment I got was ‘these are the most amazing tasting things I’ve ever had,’” he said. “Then you would have someone else who would say ‘these are really good but I had to wait in line 45 minutes and could only get four of them.’”

Sugar Shack dedicated an entire day each week to the products because making gluten-free foods with the same tools used for regular doughnuts could result in cross-contamination. Prepping for vegan and gluten-free Sunday meant taking several hours Saturday afternoon to scrub down flour-laden cooking equipment, Kelley said.

“It’s a completely different beast of baking and culinary arts. There’s a limit on what you can make – it’s basically how much refrigerator space you have,” Kelley said.

In announcing the end of the specialty Sundays, the shop said on its Facebook page that it “caused more stress than joy.”

“Many of you have been more than gracious towards the strenuous efforts and time it takes to safely prepare gluten-free foods, while many others have met us both publically and privately with resentment that there is a limit to how many doughnuts can physically be made in a period of time,” the announcement said.

The shop whipped up about 650 doughnuts for the first vegan and gluten-free Sunday and sold out in about an hour, Kelley said. Last Sunday, Sugar Shack produced 900 doughnuts and had only a few left when the store closed at noon.

Priced at $1.90, gluten-free doughnuts cost almost 60 percent more than normal ones. Still, Kelley said, margins were razor thin.

“I didn’t lose money, I didn’t make money. I might have profited $100, but at the end of the day that wasn’t what it was about,” he said. “It was to charge a fair price and give people something they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

This is the second time demand has prompted a course correction for the doughnut startup at Leigh and Lombardy streets. In June, an opening week rush forced it to temporarily shut down its fryers and close its doors to “restock, reorganize and most importantly recover.”

Other area bakeries remain in the gluten-free game.

WPA Bakery in Church Hill still serves gluten-free doughnuts.

WPA’s doughnuts are baked (Sugar Shack’s were fried), and WPA has a completely separate set of equipment for gluten-free products. WPA also charges extra for its gluten-free offerings, but owner David Rohrer said he isn’t making any extra money once specialty ingredient costs factored in.

“A 25-pound bag of the gluten-free flour is three times as much as a 50-pound bag of just regular flour,” Rohrer said.

In a BizSense interview, Rose Mohr of the Amazing Brownie Company in July listed buying baking gear for gluten-free brownies among the startup costs for her new dessert business.

Sugar Shack will be closed each Sunday until Labor Day. After the holiday, the shop will begin extended hours. Sugar Shack will then be open seven days a week, but Sunday’s offerings won’t be vastly different from any other day.

Kelley said he hopes to work vegan offerings back into the rotation on a limited basis in the future. But although Sugar Shack plans to continue offering gluten-free coffee and milkshakes, the doughnuts are a thing of the past.

“The demand is there, there’s no hiding that,” Kelley said. “I’m not up for taking the criticism about how it’s not enough.”

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2 Comments on "Doughnut shop frees itself of gluten issue"

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Melissa Black

Good on you man for trying!!! The effort was appreciated!

Priscilla Eatmon

Just an idea… to offer gluten free doughnuts and coffee. But you dont have to make the doughnuts. You can pair up with a gluten free bakery.

As a GF person I expect to pay more.