Sometimes you need a little something to make you feel A-OK. That’s certainly what three Denver-based restaurant veterans thought during the Covid-19 pandemic. Faced with furloughs, chefs Ian Palazzola and Reed Alexander, and sommelier Clara Klein teamed up to create a pop-up doughnut shop, launched in late February 2021. They named their concept Ayokay, based on the notion that with a little help from friends and some freshly fried doughnuts, everything is going to be just that.
The idea is simple. Every Sunday morning starting at 9 am at their friend’s restaurant, The Fifth String, the three dole out malted doughnuts, fried fresh and glazed to order until they run out. “Malt adds this hearty, milky, toasted flavor,” notes Palazzola, something you won’t find at any other area shop.
Each doughnut is created by hand, shaped by stretching the dough rather than punching holes to avoid waste, and made with local ingredients where possible. They team up with Dry Storage for flour and Savory Spice for some of the flavor components and draw on their travels and past culinary experiences to develop unique combinations like yuzu matcha and honey sesame.
In fact, it was travel that led them to doughnuts in the first place. Their original pandemic project, a line of jams featuring fruit from Ela Family Farms, was thwarted by a crop-ruining frost. A fateful road trip around the southeast tasting fried treats got them reenergized to provide something else exceptional, yet affordable, in their own community. “We are really firm believers that everyone deserves a delicious doughnut,” states Klein. “We’re trying to make a conscious choice to be something the community can embrace easily.”
Given that their opening day saw upwards of 500 donuts sold, they’re definitely onto something. Their weekly pop-ups continue to sell out, thanks to word of mouth and an active Instagram account, so possible expansion may not be far off. But quality comes first. “Figuring out what works without over-expanding and weakening the product that we care about, that’s our big thing,” Palazzola explains. “We just like hanging out and making things and seeing other people happy.”
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