The first time I visited Doughnut Dolly, it was a Monday morning and owner Hannah Hoffman was bustling around her shop on three hours of sleep, kicking off what promised to be a busy morning even though the shop was closed for the day. In the 45 minutes or so that Hoffman and I spent chatting at the charming picnic table outside of her shop in Temescal Alley, no fewer than a dozen clusters of people wandered by hoping to start their mornings with Hoffman’s doughnuts.

“Don’t cry!” Hoffman wailed earnestly to each hopeful as they approached. “I’m closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!”

“Awwww, nooooo!”

“Come back on Wednesday! I’m so sorry!”

I had truly never seen such an endless parade of good-naturedly disappointed people. And — no joke — I knew in my heart of hearts that every single one of those people would come back first thing Wednesday morning.

That Wednesday morning, I visited Doughnut Dolly for the second time, and customers were, indeed, filing happily into the little light-filled shop every few minutes. I was only planning on stopping in to snap some quick photos. I ended up hanging out for a full hour, watching Hoffman at work and discussing with total strangers such pressing matters as facial hair, the merits of jump-roping (apparently it improves bone density?), renter’s insurance, why hammer-throw is so dangerous and which combinations of doughnut fillings people liked best.

Oakland Local has already covered Uptown’s Donut Savant and its contribution to Oakland’s gourmet doughnut scene. Doughnut Dolly does not deal in Donut Savant’s artisanal bite-sized doughnuts, but instead carries the yeast-raised filled variety: handmade doughnut shells filled to order with rotating options like Mexican chocolate, bourbon cream, seasonal fruit fillings and the signature crème fraîche vanilla bean “Naughty Cream.” The fillings of choice are pumped into the doughnuts using big impressive-looking metal funnels equipped with nozzles, which Hoffman says are called pastry filling machines.

For an extra kick of mouth-watering excitement, you can also choose to combine fillings — Naughty Cream with a single squirt of strawberry marmalade, for example. And it goes without saying that you can order a fresh cup of coffee with your doughnut(s).

Doughnut Dolly

Hannah Hoffman, the owner of Dougnut Dolly, infuses naughtiness into her treats.

On this particular Wednesday, Hoffman was also offering Naughty Cream-filled doughnuts sprinkled generously with the last of the season’s fresh blueberries, which she had purchased earlier in the week from the farmer’s market. The blueberries were perfectly ripe without a hint of mushiness and, combined with the custardy cream filling and the light fluffiness of the sugar-sprinkled dough pocket, it was a truly masterful combination of textures and flavors, neither too sweet nor at all greasy. I felt a little pathologically guilty while consuming the thing, like it was too decadent to possibly be legal.

These are a far cry from the jelly-filled doughnuts made from a combination of doughnut mix and high fructose corn syrup. Hoffman, 38, comes from a long history of gourmet food:  her late mother was a longtime pastry chef at Chez Panisse, and Hoffman herself is a food anthropologist by education. Hence, she uses the finest ingredients she can get her hands on (for example, the coconut cream filling is made by crushing real coconut meat into Naughty Cream), makes all of her doughnuts by hand every morning, and will not sell any doughnut that doesn’t match her sense of aesthetics.

“I didn’t think this was where I would end up,” Hoffman said candidly. “I mean, I was raised in the kitchen and my mother was a chef and I’ve always cooked and always loved food. But I went to college for ten years to get out of the kitchen — and now I’m back where I belong. And it feels amazing.”

Hoffman’s food anthropology nerdiness is reflected in the name of her shop: “doughnut dolly” refers to the name given to the women who distributed homemade doughnuts to soldiers in the trenches during World War II. (There are actual archival photos of women wearing military helmets and carrying basketfuls of doughnuts — Hoffman whipped out her iPad and Google image-searched them for me.) If there were ever a need for proof that a homemade round of fried dough can do wonders for morale, the existence of the “doughnut dolly” women would be it.

Another form of proof is the air of full-belly contentment that permeates Hoffman’s shop, an unassuming 250-square-foot space filled with carnivalesque striped walls, fresh flowers and fried dough, a clean slab of white granite counter and four gleaming pastry filling machines.

Doughnut Dolly

The process starts with fresh, handmade, unfilled doughnuts.

Doughnut Dolly

Hoffman fills doughnuts to order on the spot with such filling options as “naughty cream,” Mexican chocolate and strawberry marmalade.

Doughnut Dolly

A finished product, this one sprinkled with in-season blueberries.

Given the sense of community and friendly familiarity at Doughnut Dolly, it’s hard to believe that this shop didn’t exist even a year ago. Until embarking on this venture, Hoffman had never in her life made a doughnut from scratch, despite her experience in the kitchen. One day she got the “harebrained” idea to create an out-of-the-ordinary dessert item to peddle out of a food truck. Hoffman took the plunge into opening up a brick and mortar doughnut shop, ironically, only after a maze of mishaps prevented her from getting a food truck off the ground.

“I thought, ‘How hard could it be to make a doughnut?’” Hoffman said. “Turns out, it’s really, really hard to make a doughnut. I spent a year developing this recipe and tweaking and trying different techniques, and in the meantime there was this kind of buzz that I was making doughnuts on the black market. I’d pop up on corners, I’d show up at my friends’ food trucks. I was a total doughnut whore, like, ‘Psst, want a doughnut?‘”

Along the way, supporters and friends pitched in with loans, credit and  contributions to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Five of Hoffman’s friends surprised her with the gift of her first pastry filling machine so that she could stop attempting to fill her doughnut shells with a pastry bag.

“The most surprising thing about opening up a business is the effect I have on my own community,” Hoffman said. “My neighbors are my customers, and the things that happen in my shop… I mean, there are people who are in line and they haven’t seen each other in five years, or I’ve seen women pregnant and then they have their babies. I feel very committed to the success of my community, and my community supports me in ways I never, ever would have thought. I really feel loved and held by my community and I try to do the same back and not in this woo-woo way, but very genuinely so.

“I’m feeding people something that’s really delicious, and that makes me so happy.”

It’s safe to say that it makes Doughnut Dolly’s customers very happy, too.



Where: 482 B 49th St., Oakland (next to Temescal Alley)
Phone: (510) 338-6738
Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday
More info:

Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact

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