Creating a monster

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By: Vanessa Polojac

Since July 2015, Donut Monster has become one of Hamilton’s most popular retail food items while maintaining an exclusivity with regards to their brand and products. Even on campus at Union Market, you would be lucky to get scraps of the local delicacy any time past noon.

To finally answer the feverish demand, in late October to early November, Donut Monster will be opening abrick and mortar store on Locke Street.

Reuban Vanderkwaak initially started Donut Monster as a hobby willing to pay for itself. Vanderkwaak worked as a graphic designer in the marketing/advertising industry until he left his career to become a stay-at-home father.

During this time he developed a baking hobby. Vanderkwaak used Donut Monster as a form of creative expression and became a local phenomenon with his homemade baked goods.

“I originally thought it would just be a hobby business,” he explained. “I never anticipated hiring staff or having my own location. I just wanted to make and distribute donuts when it was convenient for me.”

Vanderkwaak had an idea of what he envisioned Donut Monster to look like, but did not have the means or location to run his business.

He launched Donut Monster out of the Kitchen Collective, a non-profit, affordable commercial kitchen and culinary incubator that gives aspiring entrepreneurs a start in the industry. He shared this space along with four other culinary startups. This made the Kitchen Collective a collaborative space where the businesses could learn from each other.

Since their launch, Donut Monster’s limited availability has been a part of their brand. 

“With a limited production schedule, it was a difficult process to find a space that the business would not have to be responsible for seven days a week. This is where the Kitchen Collective became very helpful. It is a great space for people monetizing a hobby that can resemble a business,” said Vanderkwaak.

In the early stages, the Kitchen Collective was the main factor managing the micro-business. But as staff started expanding and the demands for the donuts became higher, the food incubator became difficult to share the space with.

“Donut Monster is no longer a startup business that’s unproven so we eventually ran out of room at the Kitchen Collective. But I am very grateful for the Kitchen Collective. Without the space I would have never pursued Donut Monster and I would recommend it to any entrepreneurs entering the culinary world in Hamilton,” said Vanderkwaak.

For the past two years, Donut Monster has been supplying and selling their donuts through supermarkets like Denninger’s and small coffee shops like Relay Coffee. Since their launch, Donut Monster’s limited availability has been a part of their brand.

The high demand for the product gave Vanderwaak an indication to begin conceptualizing ideas to open up his own shop. From the beginning Vanderwaak knew he wanted to be located in downtown Hamilton.

“I was able to compress the sales and demand into the busiest days of the week in the world of the retailers that I worked with,” explained Vanderkwaak. “Once the product was recognizable and popular for the customers it became the hunt for the donuts. At first it was fun, but it eventually became frustrating for the customers that were not being able to receive the product.”

For smaller cafés, Donut Monster’s limited stock and high demand can potentially bring in more customers, who will ideally purchase additional beverages and food items to give their café revenue.

But following the announcement of the Locke Street store, Durand Coffee, located at Caroline Street South and Charlton Avenue West has decided to stop carrying the donuts.

Café manager Chris Redmond noted that for their location, the donuts themselves did not generate enough return.

“It really just comes down to economics,” Redmond said. “We charged around $3 for a donut and we usually only took about 85 cents to a dollar. In terms of revenue it did not make sense to keep on supplying Donut Monster donuts. It has not affected our traffic yet because most of the customers who bought their product only came in on the certain days we supplied the donuts and often just left with them.”

While the Donut Monster model did not work for Durand, the general popularity of the desserts in the city has not diminished.

The high demand for the product gave Vanderkwaak an indication to begin conceptualizing ideas to open up his own shop. From the beginning Vanderkwaak knew he wanted to be located in downtown Hamilton.

“Every neighbourhood in Downtown Hamilton has it’s own appeal. I used to live on Locke Street 10 years ago when it was much more antique-oriented and less food-oriented… I’m really excited to be a part of the shift on the street and to represent what Locke Street can be,” said Vanderkwaak.

Vanderkwaak will be experimenting and offering a much larger array of flavours and types of donuts. Instead of offering six different donut flavours per season, the store will be offering 12 to 15 different flavours at a time – although the exclusivity of the donuts will remain the same.

“We’re going to be supplying donuts to most of the same retailers as we did prior to the Donut Monster shop. The business is also going to keep an exclusivity factor with the donuts we will be supplying. The types of donuts offered at our retailers will not be offered at the shop,” explained Vanderkwaak.

Other differences customers and fans of Donut Monster can look out for is milkshakes and coffee that will be going on sale at the shop. Donut Monsters’s donuts are uniquely flavoured often feature combinations that mix sweet and savoury notes. The milkshakes that Vanderkwaak will be providing will follow suit.

“The milkshakes will be really delicious but have unique flavours like the donuts. And for the coffee I am a coffee lover I [want] to make the best cup of coffee in the city,” said Vanderkwaak.

While the business has gained much local popularity the past couple of years, maintaining its success has its difficulties.

Vanderkwaak recently started a Kickstarter page and aiming to raise $25,000 to help fund the shop and reward

customers, with rewards such as VIP cards that give donors a donut a day for a certain amount of time.

While the future of the shop does not hinge on the result of the Kickstarter campaign, the new location will change Hamilton’s unique relationship with Vanderkwaak’s goods.

For now, the Thursday to Saturday morning donut hunt will persist, but soon Donut Monster will literally cement itself among Hamilton’s greatest dessert destinations.

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