“Who doesn’t love donuts?”
Tiffany Jaynes Black asked me this silly question while guiding dozens of miniature donuts through an automatic donut making machine. The Rube Goldberg-like contraption can make up to 1,200 artisan donuts per hour.
By the time I got there, Black looked like he had made a couple thousand mushy delights.
“I think I wear more sugar than donuts,” she joked.
Black and her husband, Johnson Black, own the new business, Van Dough’s Artisan Mini Donuts, an itinerant business that celebrated its opening on May 1, when the couple got engaged 10 years ago.
“It is our day,” Johnson said between customers.
The couple set up their booth in the parking lot of Philips Ace Hardware in Valparaiso on a recent blustery Sunday, perfect for enticing hungry customers to warm up with fresh donuts. And they did it, by the dozen, from 8 a.m.
Until 3 p.m., the couple continually made fresh donut batter before pouring it into the machine’s hopper, which dropped donut after donut. The machine automatically flips the donuts as they float on a lazy river of cooking oil.
“With a little baby along the way,” Tiffany said, using a wooden stick to guide them. “In seconds, it makes these delicious donuts.”
The mobile unit’s colorful signs and visual props attracted many driving customers. But it was the aroma of the fresh donuts that made the bulk of the sales pitch. (Watch a video of the operation and see more photos on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/JerDavich/.)
“The smell reminds you of being a kid and walking into an old-fashioned bakery,” said Lynn Jaynes, 69, Tiffany’s father, who came up with the idea for the couple.
He’s part business owner, part showman, part Barnum, part Bailey. In 2009 he established Tastebud Tours with locations in Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. The walking tours offered a guided feast at several restaurants and other iconic sites.
My favorite Tastebud tour was a re-enactment of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair hosted by Tiffany who played Miss Bertha Honore’ Palmer, queen of Chicago’s high society in the late 19th century. Perhaps you have heard of his chic hotel, the Palmer House.
Tiffany’s new business venture takes her from brownies, the hotel’s historic specialty, to gourmet donuts. The most popular flavor at Van Dough’s grand opening was raspberry lemonade, a flavor I didn’t know existed for donuts. I guess I’m old school when it comes to mini donuts. Cinnamon sugar every time. This, and powdered sugar, is a base flavor for Van Dough’s, along with three rotating specialty flavors.
“Donuts bring back fond memories of the family tradition,” Tiffany said.
One set of his grandparents lived in Indianapolis and the other set lived in Angola.
“In Indy, a weekend wasn’t complete unless there was a trip to line up at Longs Bakery,” she recalled. “In Angola, a family member would go to Tom’s Donuts early in the morning to start the day off right.”
“There’s something about the sight, smell and taste of a hot, freshly baked donut that evokes fond sensory memories. It fills my heart with a familiar loving embrace of happy times past.
Her husband also has fond memories of joining his father in getting donuts before kindergarten. Johnson always had the same thing, a cake donut with frosting and sprinkles, and a carton of milk.
“Fast forward 30 years and I’m now a donut business owner,” he said.
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His great-uncle was once in the donut business, creating “SpudNuts” that were popular at Marsh grocery stores in the 1960s.
“We are very excited to bring mini donuts to Valparaiso and surrounding areas,” Johnson said.
To frame the theme of their Van Dough, an artist easel displays their signs and additional easels will be on display for children to share their own creativity while waiting for their donuts. While I was waiting for my order, a small child jumped out of a van and ran towards the donut machine. His eyes latched onto it like icing on a, well, you know.
“In a world that seems to be constantly embroiled in conflict one way or another, it’s fabulous to serve delicious rounds of joy to the community,” Tiffany said. “I hope our small, local, family-owned and operated business can be the start of new traditions and great memories for families that will last for years.”
The couple’s Facebook and Instagram pages, @vandoughsdonuts, share the mobile unit’s whereabouts, hours of operation and different flavors. (For large events or private parties, email [email protected] or call 574-780-2099.)
“We hope to become a staple in the community for many years to come,” Johnson said. “Maybe one day someone can write about how he came our shop with their dad when they were kids.