Chicago’s doughnut shops and bakeries brought their A-game to Donut Fest, vying for bragging rights as the city’s best doughnut.
The real winners were the 1,000 attendees lucky enough to nab a ticket to the sold-out event held Sunday at Wicker Park’s Chop Shop & 1st Ward. It was easy to spot veteran fest-goers: They were the ones who brought their own Tupperware, the better to tote home samples of everything from classic glazed and apple fritters to cream-filled takes on the “cronut.”
Firecakes Donuts earned the top Judges’ Choice award for its Tahitian vanilla glazed doughnut, a repeat winner from 2015.
D&D’s Place Donut Shop took home the People’s Choice trophy in just its first year at the fest. Husband and wife Devell and Lolita Brittman, who opened their shop at 83rd Street and Kedzie four years ago, were ecstatic.
“It’s going to shoot it up,” Devell Brittman said of the anticipated effect on business.
Brittman trained under Buritt Bulloch, long-time owner of Roseland’s Old Fashioned Donuts, and proudly carried the flag for South Side bakeries at the fest.
Though they sell more than 20 flavors of doughnuts at D&D’s, the Brittmans brought a simple glazed variety to the fest, betting its appeal could more than hold up against snazzier competitors.
“Old-fashioned is the best,” said Devell Brittman. “It’s what started everything.”
Now in its fifth year, Donut Fest’s reputation has spread beyond city limits, attracting guests not only from the suburbs but from out of state.
“I ran zero ads, I did no marketing,” said Donut Fest organizer Rebecca Skoch. “It’s all word of mouth, it’s all organic. People that love doughnuts, really love doughnuts.”
Tina Brown and Lauren Brown (no relation), co-owners of T Loren Studio in Woodridge, brought their staff to the fest for a belated employee holiday party.
“I don’t know where to start,” Tina Brown said as she eyed her collection of samples.
Poor Anthony Avram could only look, but not bite, because he doesn’t have teeth yet. The 6-month-old was one of the youngest attendees, accompanying mom, Maggie, and dad, Joe, on the ride in from Downers Grove.
“I like starting my day out with them. I have a little bit of a doughnut obsession,” confessed Maggie Avram, so much so that her co-workers threw her a doughnut-themed shower when she was pregnant.
Demo Perez and Sabrina Baum made the trip all the way from Philadelphia, proclaiming Philly’s doughnut scene “trash” compared with Chicago and New York.
Perez said he was particularly taken with Gurnee Donuts’ sample, an ube doughnut topped with Oreo crumble.
The ube, minus the Oreos, took the top prize two years ago, and Gurnee Donuts owner Kevin Lee said his business is still basking in that glow.
“Absolutely,” he responded when asked whether the Donut Fest win translated into customers. “It’s been constant.”
Even established businesses like Humboldt Park’s 100-year-old Roeser’s Bakery benefit from the exposure provided by the fest.
“You’re getting your product in people’s mouths, that’s what it’s all about,” said John Roeser IV.
Maybe the customer who learns about Roeser’s at the fest stops in one day and also takes note of the bakery’s eclairs and cookies. “It’s great at raising general awareness,” Roeser said. “Whatever it takes to get someone in the door.”
The fest has become so important, Stan’s Donuts, one of the buzziest of Chicago’s new crop of artisan doughnut shops, used the event as the launch pad for two new doughnuts: Le Stan, a doughnut-croissant mashup that will be available Monday, and the Stan Junior, a mini chocolate-covered vanilla cake doughnut that will be sold in packs.
So what is it about doughnuts that people love so much?
“It’s a guilty pleasure,” said Mohammad Zafer of Logan Square. “And they look good.”
First place: Firecakes
2nd runner-up: Ipsento
First place: D&D’s Place
Runner-up: West Town Bakery
2nd runner-up: Firecakes
Best in show
Gurnee Donuts, Best Cake Doughnut
Stan’s Donuts, Best Filling
GBD Cakes & Sweets, Most Creative
West Town Bakery, Most Attractive
Roeser’s Bakery, Best Raised
D&D’s Place, Best Classic