British Columbia

Hole lotta love: Why doughnuts have become a favourite COVID comfort food

Doughnuts — those addictive deep fried balls of sugar and carbohydrates — have become a favorite comfort food for people looking for something "cheap and cheery" during the pandemic.

'I think we're an essential service for the head and the heart,' says doughnut maker

Lee's Donuts on Granville Island has been hand-making doughnuts for four decades. A favourite is the jelly doughnut, pictured, which is especially popular during Hanukka, according to the manager. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Whether it's the fresh baked scent, the gooey glaze or the warm insides, doughnuts — those addictive deep fried balls of sugar and carbohydrates — have become a favourite comfort food in the wake of COVID-19.

In Metro Vancouver, doughnut makers say the satisfying indulgence has become more popular — and more important than ever before.

"I think we're an essential service for the head and the heart," said Carol Kaesbauer, the operations manager at Lee's Donuts.

The Granville Island institution has been hand-making doughnuts for 40 years. They closed for a renovation in February and were set to reopen in mid-March. But like so many other businesses, the pandemic kept them shuttered.

Lee's and other Granville Island merchants worried whether business might have all but dried up since cruise ships — and the tourists that came with them — were banned from entering Vancouver's port.

Kaesbauer says they made just a few small batches and nervously reopened at the beginning of April — with no idea lineups would stretch hundreds of metres down the block.

"It just kind of caught us by surprise. The craziness, the madness," she said.

Some fan favourites at the Boca Grande Donut Shop include the Hot Chocolate, front left, and the Netflix and Chill, front right. (Boca Grande Donut Shop)

At the Boca Grande Donut Shop in Delta, owner Jeremy Morris says doughnut fans have been coming from North Vancouver, Abbotsford and even Vancouver Island to sample the 20 different varieties on offer. 

Morris and his wife Crystal make the doughnuts from scratch and say they can't make enough in a day to keep up with demand. 

A favourite, the very hefty Hot Chocolate doughnut, is made with toasted marshmallows on top, chocolate mousse in the centre and a white glaze and chocolate drizzle to finish it off. 

The shop went from being opened five days a week to just three. Total sales, however, have remained about the same, Morris says.

His personal favourite is called the Netflix and Chill, "which is a butter glaze with salted buttered popcorn and a caramel drizzle."

The couple will make 400 to 500 doughnuts a day on weekends.

So wrong, yet so right

"It's comfort food," said Daniel Krauss, who was enjoying a doughnut on Granville Island recently. "Everyone is pretty fed up right now and it's something cheap and cheery," he said.

Will Parker says doughnuts weren't a go-to snack for him in the past, but he's taken a shine to them since the pandemic.

"It's a sweet treat like nothing else. You wanna enjoy something in life and doughnuts are that," he said.

Nana Segawa and Yuumi Konno selecting their favorite doughnuts at Lee's on Granville Island. 'They make us happy,' says Konno. (CBC)

Not all doughnut makers are experiencing increased sales, however. Despite being a voter favourite, winning first place in the best doughnut category in a Vancouver publication, Cartems Donuts, with its three locations, has seen a 70 per cent loss in revenue since the pandemic.

Jordan Cash, Cartems founder and CEO, says he's thankful to still be up and running when so many other businesses haven't been able to stay afloat. 

Despite the financial hardship, Cash says the company's goal has always been to brighten someone's day with its handmade confections. 

"Some sweetness amidst everything," he said. "If we can help people have a better day, that's all that matters."

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