ANDERSONVILLE – For three years, Downstate Donuts have been a staple at local farmers’ markets, pop-ups and special events, serving their award-winning donuts from a homemade tricycle.
But a fire in its shared kitchen this summer grounded its operations just as the business was taking off. Now owner Virgil Roundtree has launched a Kickstarter to kick off the next phase of Downstate Donuts, which hopefully includes a store in Andersonville.
“We are looking for our next home right now,” Roundtree said. “If there is one thing that [Andersonville] miss this is a great donut store.
Roundtree started Downstate Donuts in late 2018 with friend Peter Guardalabene after enjoying a potato donut in Portland, Maine.
Potato fritters can be gluten-free and have a consistency between cake and raised donuts. The friends noticed that they couldn’t find potato-based donuts in Chicago and decided to make some on their own.
This idea gave birth to Downstate Donuts. The company was founded in Andersonville, but “Downstate” was chosen for the name of Conjuring ideas of organic ingredients and farm-to-table quality.
Manufacturers use organic and local ingredients for concoctions like vanilla sour cream and sweet potato maple. It also offers seasonal flavors, like a miso honey butter and a Viet coffee whipped donut.
In early 2019, Downstate Donuts won top prize at Chicago’s Donut Fest. It was a moment of validation for the young company.
“We thought the business could end there,” Roundtree said. “I was dazzled.”
Thinking about how to grow, the entrepreneurs moved to a virtual restaurant to produce their donuts from a common commercial kitchen, then sell them at farmers’ markets and neighborhood events. Roundtree built a “little donut tricycle” which is basically a bakery display case on wheels to get its product to people.
“I wanted to mimic the feeling of walking into a bakery, of seeing the product,” Roundtree said. “It was a great success.
Downstate Donuts expanded to Logan Square and Evanston Farmers’ Markets and expanded its wholesale business. Its products were available at cafes like Printer’s Row Coffee Co. and Gallery Cafe. The company’s “donuts” were placed in Foxtrot, the upscale corner store chain, this summer.
But a fire at his communal kitchen in July brought operations to a halt as Downstate Donuts was scaled up, Roundtree said.
Roundtree has researched new locations for a production kitchen but has yet to find the right one, he said. Roundtree said he used the break to step back and plan for the future of the business. He recently bought out co-founder Guardalabene’s stake in the company.
“We had already exceeded the space,” he said. “We were so busy responding to the request. I had to think of a roadmap to move forward.
Roundtree wants to open his own kitchen to expand the business, and he also hopes to raise enough money for a showcase in Andersonville. The Kickstarter is looking for $ 40,000 for a production kitchen. If $ 90,000 is raised, Downstate will be able to open a store in Andersonville.
There are 10 “levels of engagement” for fundraising, with donors enjoying perks like a year of “donuts” ($ 400 or more), investor’s name on the tricycle. business ($ 500 or more) or a private donut-making course ($ 1,500 or more).
Andersonville is where the first Downstate Donuts was established and where the company began selling products to the public. The company’s fundraising effort is supported by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, as a donut shop would fill a need in the neighborhood.
“Downstate Donuts has been an incredible asset to Andersonville,” said David Oakes, the chamber’s district manager, in an email. “We are in a ‘donut desert’ and we need Downstate Donuts more than ever.”
If the Kickstarter – and other fundraising efforts – are successful, the business appears to be a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.
“Local residents, businesses and the chamber of commerce have collectively supported us from day one,” Roundtree said. “That’s what every small business wants.
For more information on the fundraising campaign, click here.
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