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Relocation in quarantine

Doughnut Party makes the move
to Oliver Square

One of many of Doughnut Party’s special gift boxes. The owners were nervous about moving during COVID, but it all worked out. (Cole Buhler)

By Andy Trussler

AFTER ONE LEASE ENDED and another was signed, Doughnut Party relocated across town just weeks before the COVID-19 lockdowns began.

The move forced the family-owned, Queer-run bakery to revamp its business model – but, now, the owners vow never to go back. Even when safety regulations are eventually eased, they say delivery and online pick-up is the way to go.

Doughnut Party, now at Oliver Square’s Brewery District,  is a gourmet doughnut bakery founded and managed by husbands Matthew Garrett and Simon Underwood.

Garrett, co-owner and self-proclaimed Doughnut Daddy, says he prefers hands-on leadership. He admits that, although the move was painstaking, Oliver Square’s “accessibility and foot traffic” made the effort worthwhile.

“It was a scary time for us. We had just opened our second location at the beginning of February, so we’d only been open for six weeks when everything closed. We already knew we were moving to a new location in June, and this was mid-March, so we’d already started paying bills. It was pretty intimidating.

“We knew people were going to be hesitant going back into storefronts, and also that they may not be allowed to. We don’t have sit-down seating and have never had sit-down seating.

‘We’re Queer-owned, Queer-run, Queer-operated,
so we think sometimes people forget that, as well’

“We were always allowed to remain open during COVID, but part of it didn’t feel right to us because we really wanted to limit the amount of people coming through our door for our staff’s and the customer’s safety.”

Doughnut Party’s tight-knit staff knew significant changes had to be made, Garrett says. The execution, however, would prove complicated.

 “Our team is always very small, so it’s very intimidating,. When you’re running a business, it’s very challenging because I don’t have a pool of people to pull from if somebody is sick. If someone’s sick and in close contact, it shuts down your entire operation.”

With the pandemic steadily worsening, Garrett says he knew employee health and safety were paramount. To ensure a COVID-19 safe workspace, he asked Alberta Health Services to consult on the kitchen overhaul. The result is individual baking pods, which drastically reduce the likelihood of contamination if an employee falls ill, and doesn’t know it.

Doughnut Party’s mascot is a happy-looking, little doughnut hole. (Cole Buhler)

Relocation in a pandemic also came with a forced business remodel. Drop-in orders wouldn’t suffice, so Doughnut Party went virtual. All purchases are arranged online for curbside pickup or hand-delivery.

“It’s something we had never ever previously considered doing,” Garrett says. “There were a lot of kinks at the beginning.

“Now, we would never not do delivery. We do all of our delivery in-house. We got a driver, we bought a vehicle, and we take care of it ourselves.”

Beyond new business remodels, Garrett wants to remind Edmonton of Doughnut Party’s enduring mission: to provide the city with a Queer-run bakery.

“I think sometimes people forget Doughnut Party is a small business,” Garrett says. “We are just really happy and excited to be in Edmonton and to be received the way that we are.

“We’re Queer-owned, Queer-run, Queer-operated. So we think sometimes people forget that, as well.”

One thing that has proved a favourite with customers is the shop’s chubby, little mascot – a happy doughnut hole that looks a bit like an egg in drag. One thing that is not is the fact that staff is small and high demand sometimes stretches employees to the limit. In other words, Garrett says, if you like the shop, be tolerant when your order takes a bit of time.

“There is a really cute character, but there are also real people that live in Edmonton that read all those emails and who are behind the business.”

Although Doughnut Party’s Brewery District location will celebrate its June anniversary under quarantine, Garrett says he hopes to honour Pride Month alongside their milestone. Regardless of what shape it takes, Garrett and his team will commemorate with COVID-19 safe delivery, sequins, and doughnuts.

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