Just two years ago, self-taught baker and donut connoisseur Leigh Kellis couldn’t find a decent donut in Portland.
“She wanted to create a donut that she would feel good feeding her children,” said her brother-in-law Jeff Buckwalter.
Kellis decided to take a direct approach. A bartender by trade, she opened a cookbook one day and started experimenting with potato pastries.
Kellis and members of her family opened the first Holy Donut bakery on 194 Park Avenue in Portland. It was an immediate success. Kellis and her donuts have since become famous in the Portland community—the store was even featured by Anderson Cooper and on CNN.
On busy days, the deep-fried treats do not even make it to the display case—employees place them directly in to-go boxes. Due to the rapid growth of the enterprise, a second location just opened in Portland’s Old Port.
The donut shop will stay within the family, according to Buckwalter, who said he was thrilled to leave his corporate career to support his family in the donut world.
“As a family we made the decision that this is a wise move for us,” Buckwalter said. “I’m 40 now, so time to do something I really like!”
Kellis said all aspects of the bakery, from the logo to the interior design, have involved her family. Kellis came up with the slogan that serves as the establishment’s mantra: “If loving donuts is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
And after dining at the Holy Donut, we adopted this motto as our own.
Their family values shine through their customer service—Buckwalter graciously stayed after closing to answer our questions, and even offered us samples of every flavor in the display case.
The donuts are unique versions of the traditional Maine potato-based donut.
The shop offered golden, classic and sugar-covered donuts as well as innovative flavors like pomegranate and sweet potato ginger.
We tried everything. We could taste the trademark potato—which is boiled, riced and added to flour dough—in all of the flavors and discovered that fried potatoes are delicious in any form.
The chocolate sea-salt, a customer favorite, is definitely worth the drive to Portland. It was satisfyingly rich with a light texture and the sea salt in the glaze provided a savory contrast to the chocolate.
We also tried a gluten-free version of this flavor. It was a far cry from the sad, texturally-deficient, flourless baked goods that usually proliferate this market.
Though denser than the regular donut varieties, it was equally (if not more) delicious.
The lemon variety was buttery with an airy texture and a zingy glaze.
The staff said the recipe for the “holy cannoli” donut is the result of months of research and development, but we devoured the cream-filled treat in seconds.
The shop also offers savory options, like cheddar bacon and even a seasonal lobster variety, sold exclusively from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Kellis is conscious of the quality of her ingredients; she sources local potatoes and fruit for seasonal flavors like blueberry and apple.
The Holy Donut is part of a growing movement of sustainability-minded food businesses in Portland, using an abundance of locally grown products.
Visit the Holy Donut anytime before 5 p.m. but for a real delight, arrive at 6:30 a.m. when the pastries are fresh out of the fryer.
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