Gourdough’s Donuts: A Big Fat Treat
Gourdough's Donuts, Beer & Cocktails
- OwnerRyan Palmer, Gourdough’s Co-owner
- Time in Austin10 Years
- For FunStand-up paddle boarding with his dog
- On the sideWith a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans, Palmer is also a real estate attorney
- MissionTo create a vintage vibe at each Gourdough’s location
With a motto like “Big. Fat. Donuts.” Gourdough’s isn’t trying to hide anything. They specialize in treating Austin, Texas to a unique donut experience.
Opened in 2009, Gourdough’s serves donuts that require a fork and knife. Made to order and smothered in a layer of icing and toppings, they certainly aren’t finger foods. “It’s a creative outlet,” co-owner Ryan Palmer explained. “We saw the donut as a blank canvas that we could just go crazy with and have fun.”
Director of Operations Brooke Hopping says they do gourmet donuts so well, there’s almost no competition. “You can’t walk in and order a dozen glazed donuts,” Hopping said. “We’re really different from what you normally think of as donuts. No one else is doing it like we are.”
With backgrounds in real estate and no formal culinary training, Palmer said he and co-owner Paula Walker didn’t even know what rules to break. They started experimenting and serving donuts to family and friends who then encouraged them to open a restaurant.
In 2009, Palmer and Walker opened their first location: a food trailer in south Austin. “There’s always been food trucks and trailers,” Palmer said. “But it had really started growing in Austin and we saw it as a good opportunity to focus on just one food.” It was important to both Palmer and Walker that they make the donuts to order. “We noticed that donut shops always get really busy when there’s a light on that says ‘hot,’ Palmer said. “So we make sure that they are always hot and fresh. We put it in the fryer right after you order it.”
They began perfecting their “works of art”, creating a variety of flavors like the Miss Shortcake, topped in cream cheese icing and grilled strawberries; or Palmer’s favorite: the Funky Monkey, topped with cream cheese icing, grilled bananas, and brown sugar. “We wanted crazy donuts,” Palmer said. “We’ve always strived to not just be wacky with it, but to also make sure that they taste good.”
“Sometimes the staff will mess with customers when they order one of the almost-inappropriate donuts,” Hopping said. “If someone orders the ‘Blue Balls,’ we might make them yell ‘I want Blue Balls’ several times.” For Hopping, the fun atmosphere at Gourdough’s starts with the staff. She said she believes setting a “positive vibe” for staff will translate to a fun experience for customers.
“The cooks are king at Gourdough’s,” she said. “Without the cooks, there are no donuts. Without the donuts, there is no Gourdough’s.”
In 2012, Gourdough’s expanded to a brick-and-mortar location and the cooks began to serve other menu items such as donut burgers or salads with a garlic donut on the side.
“We noticed at our trailer that people would bring friends and bottles of wine or beer and make it a party,” Palmer said. “We said, ‘hey, why don’t we combine this and make interesting cocktails and a menu to complement the donuts?’”
Happy hump day! Treat yourself for getting through half the week with some of our #bigfatdonuts or this amazing Bloody Mary! 📷: @atasteofkokoA photo posted by Gourdough’s (@gourdoughspublichouse) on
Now with the original trailer (which was moved to its current location in 2011), two brick-and-mortar locations and a new trailer set to open this summer, Gourdough’s is looking to the future.
“We want to make sure our Austin locations are healthy and strong first,” Hopping said. “But eventually, we’d love to expand to Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. After that, I hope to get Gourdough’s going outside of the state.” From the beginning of the business to expansion, Palmer said he keeps his sight set on his stores and prefers to stay away from watching the competition.
“When we opened I had never seen anything like what we’re doing,” Palmer said. “It was purely out of our imaginations. I see it popping up in other places now but I try not to look at them. I just do what I’m doing and don’t worry about anybody else.”
From the airstream trailer to their permanent locations, Gourdough’s style captures a retro feeling. Palmer said he wanted guests to feel like they could “leave technology behind and just enjoy themselves.” With their “southern comfort” style, Hopping said they don’t try to keep up with health trends — despite being set in a trendy, health-conscious city. “We’re a comfort food,” she said. “It’s for treating yourself, not for keeping up with fads.”
Though focused on Austin for now, Palmer believes the business is part of a statement nation-wide, and he plans to be a part of it for as long as possible. “I see the donut as an American staple,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere.”