Husband and wife team Jacob and Jessie Pickering saw a need in San Luis Obispo for a place where students and community members could relax, study and eat doughnuts.
They met the need by opening SLO Donut Co. in the Foothill Plaza last month.
“My wife and I have always talked about doing a doughnut shop because we both enjoy doughnuts and coffee,” owner Jacob Pickering said. “We wanted to be next to Cal Poly and Cuesta College to provide a space for people to just hang. To me that’s what a doughnut shop is — where someone can hang out and eat coffee and doughnuts all the time.”
To make “hanging” easier, the Pickerings kept in mind what students have and what they need. They designed the store to house large tables with plenty of space to spread out books and laptops. Four outlets at every table supply enough power to charge all the electronic devices students accumulate.
The shop is open 24 hours with free Wi-Fi. There is even a library where customers can borrow books and take them home, provided they replace it with a book of their own for others to read.
Jacob is also a general contractor. He recycled the lumber from a summer housing project he worked on to construct the base of the counter, the back of the benches and the column in the corner of the shop. He also built all the tables and furniture.
Before opening the store, the Pickerings went around to other doughnut shops to figure out what they liked and didn’t like.
“I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to doughnut shops,” Jacob said. “So one day, instead of going wine tasting, we went doughnut tasting to point out exactly what they all are.”
These pet peeves include cleanliness and how all doughnut shops seem stuck in the ’90s, Jacob said.
“We wanted a place that’s a little more up to date and clean — a place where we are not ashamed to show our kitchen off,” Jacob said.
Doughnut stores run in the family. Jessie grew up around doughnuts. Her family owns different doughnut shops in locales ranging from Michigan to Texas to Los Angeles.
“I told myself I would never own a doughnut store,” Jessie said. “But I am really happy now.”
The doughnut shop has been open for about two months and business has been good. Any given night the tables are filled with students studying. On Saturday and Sunday mornings there is a line out the door for their donuts, Jacob said.
“I am not a doughnut baker, but I am a doughnut eater,” Jacob said. “I try to think of what fellow doughnut eaters would enjoy. I have the space to do whatever I want, the possibilities are endless.”
Jacob said such thoughts include “If I was stoned, what would look good to me?”
And thus the cereal doughnut was created. Whether it’s the flavor of the cereal, the novelty or just the bright colors, it sells out by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, he said.
While the cereal doughnut appeals to munchie-sufferers, the store’s best-selling doughnut is the maple bacon doughnut.
Community member Robert Gorman has been going to SLO Donut Co. for his coffee and doughnut fix ever since Starbucks got his girlfriend’s coffee order wrong three times in a row. He said the maple bacon doughnut is his favorite.
“Maple bacon doughnuts rock,” Gorman said. “Bacon is one of the few meats that go well with sugar and everyone loves maple bacon, so a maple bacon doughnut is a logical step.”
As far as Gorman’s overall experience at SLO Donut Co., he has been impressed.
“I have faith in the owners,” Gorman said. “They’ve been really accommodating. I came by the other day and they were fresh out of maple bacon donuts; they weren’t planning on making another batch for an hour and a half. The owner was nice enough to re-glaze a regular maple one and sprinkle some bacon on it so I ended up getting the doughnut I wanted.”
To help customers get the exact doughnut they want, a “create your own doughnut” bar (inspired by Yogurt Creations) offers a variety of different syrups and sprinkles to personalize any doughnut.
Mechanical engineering senior Josh Grip goes to SLO Donut Co. to study and enjoys the “create your own doughnut” bar.
“It’s cool you can dress up your donuts like fro-yo,” Grip said. “I think SLO Do Co. is pretty sick. It has a good atmosphere and cheap prices. And the location is huge — it’s close enough for freshmen who don’t have cars and close enough to the party scene on the weekends.”
Grip said SLO Donut Co. will out-compete the existing doughnut shops in the area.
“In my opinion, Sunshine is going to tank,” he said. “I think by December 2011 it will be closed.”
But Sovatah Isebrands, owner of Sunshine Donuts for the past 17 years, does not seem to think so.
“I don’t see a difference in business,” Isebrands said. “Sunshine has been here for so many years — all the customers are still coming and are still happy.”
To reach out to the students, SLO Donut Co. is on Facebook and has over 500 fans. In early October, SLO Donut Co. had an impromptu contest via Facebook with a status that read “Michelle is working right now — come check out her witch costume.” Another status followed, reading: “CONTEST — the first three people in the next hour that come in and sing a rap about Michelle’s witch costume gets a free doughnut of choice!”
Within 20 minutes the “Three Amigos” came in and rapped to the tune of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” with lyrics that included: “If you had one doughnut, one hat and a kid at the front door, would you scare him?”
“I was blown away by the quick turnaround of the contest,” Jacob said.
There have also been thoughts about a potential doughnut eating contest and live music unplugged in the future.
“We just want to be a cool place that people don’t mind sitting and hanging out at,” Jacob said. “We wrote a list of how we could be different and we’re just going to keep adding to it. If it’s received well we’ll keep it; if not, we’ll try something new. When we do a doughnut shop we want to do it completely different than any other doughnut shop.”