A bell rings when you walk through the doorway into Donas donut shop in Downey and the sounds never stop. (The shop is named after the word for donuts in Spanish.)
“What’s a mazapan?” Asks one customer. “How do you say that word?” Another one asks. This goes on seemingly all day. “What’s in the Bidi Bidi Bom Bom donut?” “Ooh, is that glitter on that donut?” The cashier responds to them one at a time, “ca-je-ta.” Besides the seemingly never-ending stream of customers making it seem like 2PAC’s Hail Mary is about to pop off at any moment, there are the mellifluous sounds of cultures meshing and mouths salivating.
Questions abound as customers from all different backgrounds come to this little Mexican-American donut shop in Downey to try their bicultural approach to the artisanal donut. Donas became internet famous three weeks ago by a viral Foodbeast video that changed everything.
“The next day people were lining up outside at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Donas operating partner Amber Bobadilla told L.A. Taco. “The phone was jammed, ‘Can you ship to New York? Las Vegas?’ We had a customer who came all the way from Atlanta just to try our donuts. She said it was worth the flight.”
Bobadilla was supervising the painting of a new mural on a pink wall behind the shop Wednesday afternoon by L.A. artist Rick Garcia, known as Save The Panduhs, and trying to remember how long it took the city of Downey to approve of the street artwork.
“It’s been since December,” Garcia reminded her. Bobadilla laughed and reflected on the businesses slower days before they went viral and had to hire new staff and change the stores hours of operation to deal with a hyper increase in demand.
Donas opened quietly in October of last year in a tiny strip mall tucked in between a laundromat and taco shop on the corner of Imperial Highway and Barlin Avenue. It was the collective brainchild of Bobadilla, her sister Ashley Leon-Vazquez, and her brother-in-law David Vasquez, who also owns the equally popular Horchateria Rio Luna coffee shop in Paramount, where they were all born and raised.
Bobadilla admitted that the trio knew little about making donuts and even less about running a donut shop before opening Donas so they purposely kept things low key. “It was very chill, very steady and it kind of worked for us,” she recalled. “And that was the plan. We hired someone to teach David how to make donuts and I worked on the toppings.”
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Together, they created something they saw as sorely missing in the Gateway Cities like Downey, artisanal sweet shops like Pitchoun in Downtown or the shuttered Bouchon in Beverly Hills: Donuts with Mexican-American roots.
“Why should people have to go to Downtown or Long Beach to find something like this?”
“That’s something we’re really proud of, bringing this place to the community where we grew up,” Bobadilla explained. “Why should people have to go to Downtown or Long Beach to find something like this?”
When Horchateria first opened two and half years ago, Bobadilla recalled people in the working-class Latino community of Paramount taken aback by the prices. “They would say things like, ‘Who do you think you are charging Huntington Beach prices in Paramount?’ But we find it offensive that people think that Latino communities don’t deserve the best.”
According to Bobadilla, Donas donuts are more expensive because they are made with the best ingredients available. “We’d rather pay a little more but give our community quality ingredients,” she added.
The most expensive dona on the menu is inspired by the glitz and glam of Selena Quintanilla. It is a donut coated with lavender glaze and edible glitter and it is appropriately called the Bidi Bidi Bom Bom. It’s tied at $5 with the glitter and gold Rich Bitch, and the other glazed glitter bomb called El Santo, after the legendary Mexican wrestler.
Other Donas creations include their top-selling Maple Glaze Chicharon, which answers to the American maple bacon gourmet donut craze, and many others that expand on famous Mexican treats like bionicos and mazapan in donut form. The names of some of the donuts are plays on Mexican-American Spanish, like their “Konfleis,” a cereal-covered donut that is named after the way that “corn flakes” sound with a deep Spanish accent. There are more traditional new school flavors too, like a chocolate s’mores donut and a blueberry one. Then there are the donuts that blend the both like their “Oreos Con Leche”
All of these unique donas were the driving force behind the popularity of the Foodbeast video that currently has nearly 4.7 million views.
Bobadilla and her partners expected a boost in sales when the video was set to be released, but nothing like what they got. “That same day we sold out,” she recalled. The increased demand led to shortened operating hours, Bobadilla added.
Donas went from open being open seven days a week until 10 p.m. to closed on Mondays and open until 6 p.m. during the week, and even shorter days on the weekends. They had to because their weekend only vegan donuts cause lines around the block.
“We think it’s better this way because before we were just running out of donuts and people would get upset,” Bobadilla recalled. “We’d get calls like, ‘Hey we are driving from Vegas but only if you’re sure you’ll still have donuts.’ We had to bring people from Horchateria to help. It was crazy.”
Bobadilla said that the new hours and additional staff have helped her a lot and that her partners are proud of the work they are doing. Donuts, with Mexican-American roots for the world to enjoy. “That’s the amazing power of social media. We’re so proud to be able to show what we love about our culture and our community to so many different people.”
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