September 14, 2021 – Plums harvested in Carmel Valley. Rich dark chocolate from Swiss chocolatier Barry Callebaut. Yeasted dough patiently risen overnight.
Offering made-to-order, artisan doughnuts, Carmel’s new Dutch Door Donuts has strong culinary roots. But the most important ingredient? Nostalgia, served two ways.
First is the nostalgia for a childhood favorite, made right before your eyes and served hot from the fryer. “It just takes you back to your childhood,” explains co-owner Chris Whitman.
Second, Dutch Door Donuts represents the first stand alone doughnut shop in Carmel in 50 years. “People keep telling us, ‘This is something Carmel has been missing,’” says Whitman.
Dance brought together the three local families behind Dutch Door Donuts—Tucker and Victoria Bunch, Jill and Calvin Schlenker, and Chris and Nancy Whitman. Their daughters danced competitively for a local dance studio. During a weekend competition in the Bay Area, Chris Whitman and Tucker Bunch started talking about doughnuts. Their conversation turned to the lack of a simple shop for coffee and doughnuts in Carmel.
“At some point Tucker said, ‘You guys should come to the house to try some doughnuts,’” recalls Whitman. “They were amazing, and we all said, ‘We should do this.’”
The team got to testing recipes together, mixing Bunch’s dough base and the group’s creativity for combining flavors. A test run at a birthday party for one of their daughters earned rave reviews.
The three families saw an opportunity for a “destination” doughnut shop committed to quality, creativity and service. Next came a business plan—and then the pandemic ground everything to a halt. But the team pressed on, navigating the ebb and flow of Covid restrictions. More than a year in the making, Dutch Door Donuts debuted in Carmel Plaza over Labor Day weekend.
Already, the shop has scored high marks from locals and tourists alike.
The focus is the classic combination of coffee and doughnuts. “We wanted to keep it simple,” explains Whitman. “The doughnut is the star.”
Dutch Door Donuts’ signature sweets take a decidedly gourmet slant.
Whitman describes Tucker Bunch as the “brains” behind the doughnut recipe. Bunch brings a wealth of experience as a chef—he’s a veteran of opening restaurants and a development chef for Sweet Earth Foods. The secret to his dough? Because it’s made the night before and given time to rise overnight, it incorporates more air, resulting in a lighter doughnut. The dough is shaped by hand, fried to order, then finished with glazes and toppings.
“We’ve spent a lot of time eating the doughnuts and trying different flavors and recipes,” says Whitman. “We’re extremely happy with the product and the people that are coming into the shop are loving it as well.”
The menu includes three staple flavors—vanilla bean glaze, cinnamon sugar and ground chocolate—plus a selection of seasonal flavors. For the shop’s debut, that meant Carmel Valley plum, maple bacon and pistachio cardamom. Already, new flavors have graced the menu—pistachio cardamom gave way to butter pecan, while the season set on Carmel Valley plums and brought pomegranate raspberry instead. Doughnuts sell for $3-4 apiece.
Instagram offers a peek inside Bunch’s R&D for upcoming seasonal doughnuts. Teasers for future flavors include bright fruit glazes (blueberry and Meyer lemon, passion fruit, blackberry lime, blood orange), tropical escapes (toasted macadamia, coconut), chocolate (dulce de leche chocolate crumb cake), and even savory-leaning creations (apple compote and Gjetost cheese, chai-spiced, toasted almond, sesame and cinnamon). And the list keeps growing, with a whiteboard in the prep space for staff to jot down their suggestions for new flavors. “We’re going to have some fun with the specials for sure,” says Whitman. Follow @dutchdoordonuts on Instagram for new menu additions.
Whitman’s favorite? “I enjoy all of them!” But pressed a little further, “If I had to pick one so far—we sold out of it and it won’t come back for a while—but the Carmel Valley plum. It brought me back to when I was a kid.”
That childhood nostalgia inspired a key aspect of the design of the space—a large glass partition that lets patrons watch their doughnuts being made to order. Whitman’s wife, Nancy, designed the interior, including the shop’s highly Instagrammable “Carmel” sign.
“We wanted it to be fun for everybody, whether it’s kids sitting at the bar top watching it or foodies looking for a culinary experience or adults wanting to be a kid and have fun again,” says Whitman. “We’ve enjoyed seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they take that first bite.”
“We want to make an exceptional product, provide amazing customer service, be a very culinary experience and just have fun with it,” says co-owner Chris Whitman.
Dutch Door Donuts is part of the Carmel Plaza’s culinary revival, along with new additions on the horizon, Carmel Burger Bar and Nicolás Cocina de Herencia.
Dutch Door Donuts • Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, inside the Carmel Plaza, Carmel • 831-250-7901, dutchdoordonuts.com • Open 7:30am – 5pm (or until sold out) daily
Raúl Nava (he/him/él) is a freelance writer covering dining and restaurants across the Central Coast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @offthemenu831.