Blue Star Donuts
Is your dream donut so alluring that it could tempt from a cover of bon appétit magazine? One small, artisanal chain’s “Donuts for Grown-ups” recently rose to that rarefied height with Blue Star’s signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil beautifully capturing one of three inaugural covers of the bon appétit summer Travel Issue.
A shiny culinary siren, Blue Star’s flagship flavor’s adventurous taste combination ‘boldly goes where no donut has gone before’. And, contrary to what the high-gloss finish might trick your senses into expecting, the hint of herb keeps this confection from sky-high sweetness, while the slightly caramel top note of small-batch bourbon perfectly complements this neo-classic snack’s basil undertone.
Blue Star founders Katie Poppe and Micah Camden began crafting their brand of donut dignity in December 2012, when they launched a daily 18-hour ritual at the first of four locations in the foodie mecca of Portland, Oregon, where even dive bars often serve vegan and gourmet nibbles. The resulting brioche dough is complex, light, yet substantial and, more than any other attribute, the main ingredient to a donut being selected for the coveted bon appétit cover. “Working with live dough is very tricky,” explains Poppe, “and it’s typically much more consistent and convenient to use mixes. We wanted to take on the challenge of making the best, highest quality donut we could possibly make.”
A busy counter trade on iconic Hawthorne Boulevard in the City of Roses attests to the success of the donut duos master plan. “Our customers really appreciate that we make our donuts fresh every day from scratch, using real and whole ingredients. They enjoy our culinary twist on traditional flavors for a more sophisticated profile, and like hanging out in a clean, high-energy shop with fun people,” says Poppe.
Blue Star’s warm, yet upscale ambiance is an homage to Parisian patisseries. “In Europe,” relates Poppe, “pastry shops are incredibly elegant, the crafts are time-honored and exquisitely displayed. We decided that if we were going to make donuts from scratch– which is really hard! –they deserved to be housed in an equally beautiful shop.”
The Rise To Foodie Fame
Gastronomic entrepreneurs Poppe and Camden are no strangers to elevating fast food fare beyond its usual gritty profile, having also founded Portland’s Little Big Burger, Boxer Sushi, Hop Dog, Boxer Ramen and Son of a Biscuit restaurants.
Poppe, who holds a BS in Neurological Psychology, was named one of Portland Business Journal’s 2015 “40 under 40” and “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Portland chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organization.
A typically fast-food dessert item was an organic fit for their next venture; says Poppe,
“Donuts are such a fun and nostalgic part of our childhood, and culture. We wanted to capture and pay tribute to that, but also add a ‘foodie’ or grown-up twist that people might appreciate. Donuts have always intrigued and excited us, and we felt like there was enough space and demand in the market for something novel. So we traveled to Europe for inspiration, and came away with this vision of tying European pastry elegance into an American nostalgic classic. We definitely underestimated how difficult pastry is, though! The first three to six months were unbelievable – we were literally glazing donuts to order and tweaking recipes daily, trying to troubleshoot with lines out the door!”
The launch phase was doubly challenging, since, Poppe adds, “I’m an extreme introvert!” Introverts might prefer take-out and extroverts may occupy more of the seats, bot both can agree on the singular star-quality of a Blue Star designer donut.
Service is handily fast and caring, the facility spotless, and Blue Star variety offers enough choices to satisfy a wide range of tastes, ranging from a rich Chocolate Almond Ganache to the tart Lemon and Key Lime Curd to the comfort food decadence of Real Maple Bacon, with three vegan options daily, beignets on Mondays, and gourmet coffees and teas.
We loved each of our personal picks of scrumptious Hard Apple Cider Fritters and two kinds of donut: Chocolate Salted Almond and Cointreau Crème Brûlée – another unique, signature donut to be reckoned with! A true delicacy among donuts, each dessert is individually hand-flamed to create a crispy candied shell, making them outrageously delicious! And, squeezing the provided pipette of orange liqueur straight into the thick, gooey vanilla custard center makes these gourmand goodies truly “Donuts for Grown-ups.”
Droves of eager customers soon became their own homage to Portland’s guormet donut King and Queen. Poppe credits the commitment that her artisan bakers bring to the donuts they handcraft, saying,
“Donuts are hard, early morning, rewarding work. I think pastry and baking doesn’t have the same prestige here that it does in Europe, which is a shame. It’s incredible to see how passionate and committed bakers are, and it’s truly satisfying to be a happy contribution to our community. Everyone go high-five your local donut maker!”
Photos by Portland-Based Jon T. Cruz