Food and Drink

The Holy Donut

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From Maine's fertile and abundant soil come many crops – one of the most plentiful being the potato. These starchy vegetables are destined to emerge fully formed from the ground and become baked, scalloped, and mashed. Some will be turned into French fries and hash browns.

But the luckiest, most fortunate potatoes in Maine will experience a different kind of transformation:

They will become artisan donuts.

"You should make donuts out of potatoes. Potatoes make everything better." Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut, can still hear those words spoken more than five years ago. They came from her boss while she was a bartender at Portland's Otto Pizza. She had a dream to start a donut shop and began making donuts at her apartment in Munjoy Hill just east of downtown Portland. She dropped her first dozen off at a local coffee shop, Coffee By Design, which agreed to sell them.

Those twelve were heartily consumed, and that led to twelve more. And then twelve more. Leigh started making connections with more coffee shops and retail outlets – exhibiting the trademark can-do attitude inherent in so many Mainers. With help from her father she was soon making 40 dozen donuts a week.

Still her dream was to start a donut shop – one that made donuts from scratch, on premises, with the vibe of a small bakery. "A place with a heart," Leigh says. Despite a few detractors, (no great success story is complete without them) she opened up the first of three Holy Donut locations. Today, Holy Donut is the burgeoning home of some of the best donuts you will ever be lucky enough to consume. They're not just the best donuts in Maine. They're some of the best donuts in the United States, covered by major news publications including The New York Times.

Much of that success is due to Leigh's high standards. "I like things with more substance," Leigh says. "It has to have a soul; the place should smell like you're making it right here." There is almost a spiritual connection to the donuts made here, and Leigh says that in many ways donuts are a sacred food (although she insists the word holy in the name is purely in reference to the hole in the donut).

One can understand how you could gain a connection to these circular creations. They are not your run of the mill donut; we're talking dark chocolate sea salt. Sweet potato with a ginger glaze. The "Holy Cannoli" with ricotta and lemon ginger glaze. Or, how about a bacon stuffed cheddar donut? "I'm always experimenting," Leigh says, making you wonder how far you can go toward redefining the donut. If anyone can challenge convention, it's her.

Holy Donut could not be in a better place to showcase artistry in baking. Portland, and Maine in general, has always been a "support local first" kind of place. And every small business, while certainly competitive, enlists the rising tides raise all boats principle, which keeps the community close, with goodwill always winning out. "People in Maine take their time, they have pride in what they do; Maine is known for quality" Leigh says. "Maine is a livable state with culture and beauty, art and food, without the traffic and the chaos," she says, knowing she owes a lot to the Maine culture for her success. Local is king here.

"You can go to Starbucks in India," she says, knowing that integrity, purity and a sense of place are baked into every donut.


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