At 3:30 a.m., the streets of Spokane Valley are quiet and the sun is still a couple of hours away from rising.
But Mike Britton, 62, is busy turning on his lights and fryer, weighing old-fashioned doughnut mix and brewing coffee for regular customers who will be at the door when he opens them at 5 a.m.
“I do have people come in even before I open sometimes,” Britton said of his customers.
Britton said he used to work in a warehouse, but in his 40s, went back to college to earn his business degree from Eastern Washington University. He tried working in finance and insurance before a friend of his decided to teach him how to make doughnuts.
“He knew I liked to bake bread,” Britton said. That friend was Darrell Jones, the original owner of the Donut Parade in Spokane.
Jones taught him the basics. Britton found that his real training started when he branched out into his own business 14 years ago on Argonne Road. He learned what ratio of different doughnut mixes he liked to combine, how his equipment works and what works best for him.
He’s been at his location at 11413 E. Sprague Ave. for the past 11 years.
After he weighs his doughnut mix for old-fashioneds he mixes it with cold water, making a batter. He lets the batter rest for a little bit before he pours some in his doughnut maker – a large funnel-like piece of equipment with a hand crank. Britton turns the crank and perfectly shaped portions of batter fall into the fryer.
“I always start with the old-fashioned,” he said. “They’re cooked at a lower temperature.”
After the batter has cracked and burst in places along the underside of the doughnuts, Britton turns them using wooden dowels. When they are done, he grabs two handles and the rack between them lifts the hot doughnuts from the shortening. He places the rack over a hopper filled with a glaze made with powdered sugar, vanilla and hot water. He uses a scraper to drizzle the glaze over the still-warm doughnuts.
“Mike’s like a machine. He does the same thing every morning,” said John Eakins, a longtime customer.
It takes longer for the maple bars.
Not long after mixing the first batch of old-fashioned doughnuts, Britton measures out yeast and mixes up the dough in a second mixer, which are all on timers. The dough needs time to rise, and in between making batches of old-fashioned, cake doughnuts and buttermilk bars, Britton turns out the dough for the maple bars on a counter, kneads it and sets it aside to rise again. Every so often, he punches the dough down and cuts off a section to rise by itself. He’ll later roll it out, run a roller with small spikes on it called a docker, which keeps bubbles from forming on the bars, and cut it into maple bar-size pieces. These go into a proofer for a while before they are fried and frosted, usually by about 6:30 a.m.
Britton makes doughnuts while customers come in – some of them have been coming for his doughnuts, coffee and company since he first opened 14 years ago and he said many of them are like an extended family.
“I like the camaraderie,” Eakins said. “I love that apple caramel. It’s to die for.”
Helen Bell, a regular customer from the beginning, comes in five mornings a week, sometimes with birthday cards for other regular customers which everyone signs.
Britton said he likes having his kitchen open to the customers. He can chat them up while he makes more doughnuts.
“People like to see you making doughnuts,” he said.
He said food fads come and go, but doughnuts are something that people can take into the office and share, and for a reasonable price.
“You take a dozen cupcakes to work, you’re spending some real money,” he said.
Delia Olson, 9, came in early Wednesday morning last week with her mother, Christine Christian.
“Sometimes I like the chocolate ones, sometimes I like the peanut ones,” Delia said.
Christian said she loves the blueberry cake doughnuts and the two come by sometimes after she has finished her graveyard shift.
“If you’re in the Valley, this is the place,” Christian said.