At 6:05 a.m. on a Friday, on a side street in Matthews, not even the birds are awake. But Courtney Buckley is trying to wrestle a squawking toddler into her car seat in the dark while safely sliding four white bakery boxes into the back of her Subaru Forester.
The car doesn’t even hit the end of the driveway before it fills with the smell of doughnuts. Fresh, warm doughnuts from Your Mom’s Donuts, just finished at 2 a.m. by Buckley’s partner, Benjamin Frye, who’s inside the house catching a few hours of sleep.
There might be easier ways to make a living. But getting up before dawn to deliver doughnuts? Pretty sweet.
“It’s a real family business,” Buckley jokes, putting a kiddie video of puppets on her iPhone and jamming it under the car headrest where 13-month-old Violet can see it. Pretty soon, Violet has stopped crying and is happily waving her hand to the music.
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Still, with a nursing baby, a fiance who works all night to make fresh doughnuts and a business that took off so fast that they didn’t have time to make a plan, Buckley, 28, is working harder than she ever dreamed.
“I don’t know how I function,” she admits, starting a morning of deliveries. “God is good. I found out I can function on broken sleep.”
Who wants doughnuts?
Yes, there is a business in Charlotte that will come to your house or office – as long as it’s within 10 miles of Matthews or the bake shop on Clanton Road – and bring you fresh, hot doughnuts. Fresh, hot doughnuts made with mostly local, sustainable ingredients.
OK, this is not a cheap indulgence. It’s $15 for a half-dozen or $24 for a dozen. But they are big doughnuts, easily as big as a big man’s palm. (They’re square, by the way, not round: “We wanted to be different,” Buckley says. “Round doughnuts are the chains, and that’s not us.”)
A lot of their customers are around SouthPark, but there are plenty in less swank areas.
Last Friday, Buckley had to be at a South Boulevard apartment building by 6:45 a.m. to deliver to Haley Erb, a new kindergarten teacher who took a half-dozen to work to thank two veteran teachers who had helped her.
Another delivery was at a warehouse on Atando Avenue where Joe Floyd builds those rolling cases they use to transport music equipment. He got a dozen delivered at work on Friday and a half-dozen at home on Saturday.
“I found out (Doughnut Chain X) were frozen and I don’t want to eat that,” Floyd said, paying Buckley while Violet crawled on the floor of his office.
“A lot of our customers definitely care about their ingredients,” Buckley says. “You should be able to have a treat and not worry about junk in your food.”
Down on the farm
Buckley and Frye are part of the new class of young entrepreneurs who want to make food in a different way. They were both fans of farming and sustainable food who were just looking for a way to live their beliefs.
Frye was a culinary graduate at Johnson & Wales University who knew he wanted to do something with food, but he really loved being around farms. Buckley was a former food-service worker and horse trainer who bounced around the country before she followed a sister here.
In 2010, they were both working as farm food brokers, gathering produce and selling it to local restaurants, when Charlotte chef Mark Jacksina decided they belonged together, Buckley remembers.
“He gave him my phone number and said, ‘She’s selling more than you.’ ”
They tried farming on leased land, but it wasn’t working out. So they moved to Matthews and started looking for a niche.
At lunch in the Plaza Midwood area one day, they realized there weren’t any great desserts – and no doughnut restaurants that weren’t chains.
“Charlotte needs doughnuts,” Buckley says. “Doughnuts are good.”
They leased space in a commercial kitchen on Clanton Road and started figuring out how to make doughnuts using mostly local ingredients. When it’s available, they use flour from North Carolina-grown wheat. They use eggs from Bell’s Best in Monroe, butter and cream from Homeland Dairy, strawberries from Bush-N-Vine.
They fry them using lard they render themselves from hogs raised by Wild Turkey Farms, and bacon – yes, they have done a bacon and beer doughnut – they cured from heritage-breed pigs they raised.
After starting the business in October, they started experimenting with flavors, using Frye’s culinary background. Only one was a total flop, he says: They tried to do a savory doughnut with bacon onion jam.
“That was just wrong,” he says.
They announce their flavors each week on Facebook, and they stop taking orders as soon as they sell out. Most weeks, they hit their limit of 25 to 30 dozen in a couple of days.
Since Frye is working all night frying and glazing, Buckley has taken to the road, Violet in tow, to do the deliveries.
“We’re just holding on to our hats and running for it right now,” she says.
Business is good enough that they’re opening their own shop. They’ve leased a space on Monroe Road near N.C. 51 that’s just a few minutes from their house. They expect to open in late June or early July.
Then they’ll hire more help and increase delivery hours. They’re expanding already though, adding a stand at the Matthews Community Market that opens next week.
But their lives won’t slow down that much: Buckley has already decided that the deliveries won’t stop.
They didn’t intend to do them, she says. Originally, they planned to just sell doughnuts to coffee shops and restaurants. But now it’s gotten so popular, she can’t say no.
“It’s such a niche market that we will keep doing it. Oh my gosh, what’s better than being in your PJs and having fresh, hot doughnuts arrive at your door?”