Portland’s Holy Donut unearths the Maine grail — a lobster doughnut

Posted July 10, 2013, at 12:30 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2013, at 1:17 p.m.
Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut in Portland, Maine with her newest creation — the lobster doughnut.
Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut in Portland, Maine with her newest creation — the lobster doughnut. Buy Photo
The lobster doughnut is the latest creation from The Holy Donut in Portland, Maine — fresh lobster in a Maine potato doughnut with butter and herbs.
Kathleen Pierce
The lobster doughnut is the latest creation from The Holy Donut in Portland, Maine — fresh lobster in a Maine potato doughnut with butter and herbs. Buy Photo

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PORTLAND, Maine — You wouldn’t dunk a lobster roll in your coffee, but a lobster doughnut?

Now we’re talking.

In a gray and teal doughnut shop at 194 Park Ave., Leigh Kellis is working on her latest palate-pleasing invention.

“I’m taking the best of every bit of Maine, which is potatoes, deliciousness, fresh lobster, some herbs,” said the owner of The Holy Donut, frying the lot into golden pockets of love.

Meet the lobster doughnut. No bib required.

Incorporating Maine’s king crustacean into her potato doughnuts, a dense yet ethereal take on the leaden classic, could turn the idea of a morning pick-me-up on its head when it hits breakfast counters in Portland this weekend.

“I’ve never had a lobster doughnut, I’ve never heard of a lobster doughnut,” said Kellis, who is betting that the cult status of her bacon cheddar and wild Maine blueberry doughnuts will carry over to lobster. “I think people visiting Maine would be very excited about this concept.”

At around $9 each, they are a real eye-opener, but this self-taught baker is not holding back.

Instead of a classic jelly doughnut, think “a big chunk of lobster in the middle,” said Kellis, 37. “I’ve tried it and it’s incredible.”

All of her potato doughnuts, which sell for $1.64 each, are made with unbleached flour, organic sugar and Maine potatoes.

“Most people say you don’t feel awful after eating these doughnuts, you don’t feel lard in your mouth. It’s not a sugar bomb,” said Kellis.

The former bartender, who grabbed the well-known “Joy of Cooking” cookbook one day, busted out a dozen potato doughnuts and turned a dream into a profitable business, is on a roll.

In the two years that The Holy Donut has been in operation, Kellis has gone from selling a dozen doughnuts a day to 10,000 doughnuts a week. On weekends, her staff pulls them directly from the fry machine into boxes as they fly out the door.

Her first wholesale client was Coffee By Design, which carries The Holy Donut in all three Portland locations. Whole Foods started selling her sinful treats, in flavors such as dark chocolate sea salt, a few weeks after her launch.

“We sell out of them almost every day,” said Jason Berry, shift leader at Coffee By Design on Congress Street. “There are no other doughnuts that are remotely similar.”

Beginner’s luck?

The single mother, who started the business with no money or baking experience, describes her success as a fluke. But her father tells it differently.

“She’s been amazing in her dedication and the amount of work she’s put in to create the doughnuts,” said Allan Kellis, a retired insurance salesman who started delivering doughnuts to wholesale customers and is now The Holy Donut co-owner.

“She made sure quality was consistent, she took care of her customers. Now we have people hanging out the door trying to get their doughnuts,” he said.

“I recognized most of this is not the typical outcome for opening a small business,” his daughter, who has 17 employees and more on the way, said of her success. “I feel very blessed.”

And there are no signs of stopping.

A second retail location in Portland is in the works and in August she will appear on “ Donut Showdown,” a reality show in the style of “Cupcake Wars” airing on the Cooking Channel.

Her quick rise is all the more surprising considering her backstory.

Two years ago, doughnuts were not in Kellis’ diet, much less on her radar. But after a divorce, she was ready to taste life again.

“Suddenly, I was craving doughnuts, which symbolized the ultimate pleasure — bread and fat and sugar and all the things we are not supposed to have,” said the Portland native.

Looking for a lifestyle change, she followed her impulse.

“I said, ‘I love doughnuts and I think Portland needs a good doughnut shop and I need a new career,” said Kellis.

On a friend’s encouragement, she started practicing making doughnuts in her Munjoy Hill kitchen. For three months, she made them almost every day.

“I made doughnuts like it was my mission in life.”

Now it is.

Though stopping short of declaring the doughnut the new cupcake, the sugary, fried discs could be poised for a comeback.

“The doughnut has a nostalgic, emotional connection with most people that got lost in the last few years,” said Kellis. “So many people say ‘Oh these doughnuts remind me of my grandmother, it makes me feel comforted.’”

Kathleen Pierce can be reached at kpierce@bangordailynews or on Twitter @piercenews.

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