I want to see the world through a child’s eyes again. I want the wonder and possibility to live in me, and I never want to succumb to the inevitable: that the crocodile is slowly ticking away.
I look to my nephew for the escape that his youth offers. His smiling eyes, his playful nature, and the overjoyed expression he wears on his face that tells me that all is right in the world.
He lives with no apologies. Youth at its best.
Someone in the room catches his attention and he utters the words, “grandpa, donut!” with excitement. Those two words have a profound effect on his young life. Immediately, he knows he has a date with his grandfather and donuts will be involved. It’s a simple moment shared between family members. One that will be remembered for a lifetime.
I am driving in the car lost in my thoughts. With my eyes fixated on the road, I feel the urgency to stop the car. I walk inside the store and walk out carrying a box filled with an array of colors that would make a rainbow envious. I arrive at the restaurant and I present the box to the gentleman across the table from me. As he opens it, even his eyes are smiling. He has a playful nature and an overjoyed expression that proves to me that all is right in the world.
“Sidecar Doughnuts!” I said with enthusiasm to my father-in-law.
He smiled and replied in a thick South African accent, “These are good. Real good!”
Months later, I find myself sitting across the table from Brooke Des Prez, creator of those fine donuts and co-owner of Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee.
“Well first, I am a mom!” she says with excitement.
With a cup of coffee and a delicious salt and butter donut as my companion, Brooke and I talk about life and how she turned wonder and possibility into a successful business.
This moment, shared over donuts and coffee, is one that I would like to share with you.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your back story?
I grew up in the city of Orange, CA. There were orange groves all around us in those days, different from what it is now. In regards to my background, I guess you can say that I have been in the clothing industry all my life. My father worked for the clothing company, Saint Croix Knits, in downtown Los Angeles until he retired. I worked with him there and then married my husband who was also in the clothing industry. Then, around the age of forty, I got into catering and hospitality at my daughter’s school. I just fell in love with it.
Was food a huge part of your life growing up?
I have always loved food and cooking. I would spend three months out of the year on Catalina Island living off of our boat. This was around the sixties and seventies. Lobster was in abundance in those days and you could get abalone off the rocks! This was the point in my life where I fell in love with nature. I’ve found that I bring nature into a lot of my food in terms of preparation. I learned to catch something in the ocean, how to prepare it, how to keep it fresh, and not overcook it. That was something my dad and I worked on a lot, especially when cooking lobster. It was so much fun.
How did the concept of Sidecar come about?
Sumter Pendergrast, co-owner of Sidecar Doughnuts, was interested in opening a coffee shop, so he decided to attend a coffee conference in San Diego. While there, Sumter was talking with a guy that had ambitions of opening a donut shop but it never came to be. It was there that the seed was planted. Ironically, two years prior I had been messing around in my kitchen with donuts. It was my goal to make a really well made donut. Unfortunately, I had to put the idea to the side because I was getting a lot of work in the catering world.
Both of our paths eventually crossed at our childrens school in Orange County. Sumter and his wife Chi-lin knew I was in charge of hospitality there and knew about my baking. He contacted me, we all met, and we clicked. In our minds we knew there was a market for donuts that we could tap into and, if we did it well, we could succeed.
Where did you seek out inspiration when deciding you wanted to make donuts?
I love creating something that would be considered out of the box. Our butter and salt, or huckleberry donuts are prime example of thinking differently. Those donuts are ones that are not commonly heard of but are considered interesting.
Another inspiration had to do with an article I read about Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. It got me really excited about food! It was so forward thinking that I didn’t realize you could be that creative with food. To me he is a genius and that experience really freed me in terms of cooking. What he was doing brought me to tears.
Let’s talk about the process of donuts. What does that look like?
We have a mother dough for the yeast. It normally takes four hours to create a donut. You come in and mix it, let it rise, and then mix it again, which develops the good bacteria. One thing about our donuts is that they are easier to digest because of our process. We really spend our time with the rise. To us that is important and we feel it also adds flavor.
What time does the process usually start?
The first batch of donuts are made at two in the morning to six in the morning with the process continuing all day long until we close. Every hour we fry fresh donuts. This a huge component in our philosophy of creating quality donuts and we worked tirelessly to figure out how that was going to work because no one was really doing that.
I had to do my graphs and to see if this was really going to work with this many employees. We constantly needed fresh dough which is considered labor intensive compared to most donut shops who come and make their big batch of donuts for the day. There is nothing wrong with that but I wanted to approach the process differently. I wanted people to understand that each donut I create is a reflection of me. I consider each donut to be part of my story; a story I offer to my customers, one that I want to be retold in the most authentic way possible. When someone understands what I’m trying to say and responds in a positive way nothing feels better. When people say, “It’s fresh and I can taste the ingredients.” I say “Yes! That is what I am trying to tell you.”
To me, I don’t care if I sell a million donuts, if one person says that, I am fulfilled.
How many flavors total do you have?
We do about fourteen to fifteen per day. We have our standards that don’t change: the huckleberry, the vanilla twist, the maple bacon, the butter and salt, and the cinnamon crumb. For our seasonal flavors it really depends on the fruit that’s in season, the farmers markets that I frequent, or wherever I can find it. That is the challenge and will continue to be the challenge as we grow. I won’t loosen up my standards. I will need help with that going forward. I feel if I can’t do it the way I want to do it then forget it. There is no point. I am so lucky that my partners and I are on the same page. We want to put a product out there that is done in an effective and efficient way. One that adheres to our high standards, and is considered quality to us and to our customers.
Something I noticed is that you have a Sidecar Doughnuts coffee brand? What is the story behind that?
This is a fairly new addition, about two months. We worked with Stumptown Coffee to create a private label. They created several roasting profiles and held a tasting for us which led to our own flavor profile called the Colt’s Tooth and Forty Winks. In terms of our coffee program we wanted to create something more unique. It tastes a little different. With the growth of Stumptown, it is easier to find their coffee at most places. We felt to have our own private label it added something special to the Sidecar brand. We have had a positive response. All the credit goes to Sumter for this great idea.
Is the coffee program another important aspect to Sidecar?
Yes! When you come in to Sidecar for a donut we want to ensure that you get a great cup of coffee as well. It is just another enticing thing to come for.
What are your plans for Sidecar in terms of expansion?
The Mendocino Farms guys found this really cool, old 1920’s building in Santa Monica, California. They contacted us to see if Sidecar and another company called Juice Served Here would join them. We said yes and we couldn’t be more excited!
Will you be working at both locations as well?
Yes. Although, the Costa Mesa location is doing really well. We have a great team in place and I have taken on more of a facilitator role. I am just really happy with what I am seeing. I have apprentices that I have trained up that I work closely with as well as a great General Manager that oversees day to day operations. My role at the Santa Monica location would be more involved especially at the beginning so I could create a great program that is sustainable.
Finally, what makes Sidecar Doughnuts special not only to you but to your customers?
We offer a relatively wholesome product and we are using products that you don’t usually see in a donut which makes it unique and special. To me, I never imagined that we would create a product that many would love and seek out on a daily basis. It has formed a rapport with our customers and has expanded our community beyond our front doors. It’s a great feeling!
270 East 17th Street #18, Costa Mesa, CA 92627