“Classically new” seems like some kind of contradiction, but it makes sense to Jon Fine, who created a doughnut shop around the vintage-modern concept.
The theme is meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia yet appeal to today’s palates, and it’s carried out in clean lines, vintage-inspired atomic starburst patterns and charming, white cake plates.
It also seems to be working.
Well, it along with the 35 to 42 different kinds of doughnuts available each day at the new Retro Donuts in north Spokane.
“We sell thousands of doughnuts a week,” said 52-year-old owner and manager Fine. His business card calls him “creator & captain.”
Don’t ask him to name a favorite.
“Our fritters are amazing,” he said. “Our maple bars are big and flavorful.”
Have one with crispy-chewy caramelized brown sugar maple pepper bacon. Add jalapeño rings, if you want. Oh, and the seasonal eggnog cream has been selling well. So has the triple chocolate peppermint.
“I would say I created most of our flavors by looking across the country and up into Canada for the top flavors in each region,” said Fine, who owns the shop with his brother, Spokane physician Kurt Fine. The pair makes up Retro Bros. Inc., the parent company of the new Retro Donuts.
The brothers opened their first doughnut shop in the Pinewater Plaza building in mid-October, and they’re already planning to expand. The hope is to open a South Hill location in early 2018.
“We’re above where we thought we’d be,” Jon Fine said.
On the first day of business at the North Side shop, more than 50 people were lined up by 6 a.m. to be among the first to try their Retro Donuts. Customers waited up to an hour and 45 minutes.
On the second day, the wait was about an hour. Doughnuts continued to sell out. And, for the first several weeks, the shop capped the number of bacon maple bars that a customer could order.
In the two months since then, Fine said, the kinks have been worked out. The two bacon maple bars per person limit has ended. The drive-thru has opened. And, “We’re making more doughnuts, and we’re much more adept at the point-of-sale system,” Fine said.
He had planned to open the shop Sept. 9 and started putting up billboards in summer. Opening day ended up being Oct. 14. He didn’t sweat the delay too much considering, he said, “I didn’t even think about having a doughnut shop until seven months ago.”
When Fine was laid off in March from his job as director of sales and marketing at the Spokane Club after about six years, he regrouped – and reached a conclusion: “I didn’t want to work for anybody after the shock of that departure.”
A bonus, “I had no real financial desperation.”
He considered a couple of ideas – brewery, pizza place, doughnut shop – and the latter made the most sense. He did some market research and, he found, “It was very clear Spokane was under-served in terms of doughnuts.”
Inspired by the success of Legendary Doughnuts and Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts and Coffee on the West Side as well as Blue Star Donuts in Portland, he set to work crafting a business plan. His wife helped with the color scheme. He scouted the location.
The spot previously held a Mexican restaurant that had been closed for about four years, he said, noting he was attracted to the growing neighborhood and forthcoming relocation of Costco nearby.
Equipment came from the Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group. And, in all, start-up costs ran about $115,000, Fine said.
His commercial kitchen experience had been limited to his younger years. In high school he had worked at an Italian deli. So there was a bit of a learning curve transitioning to doughnut-making.
“I’m a foodie,” Fine said. But, “I admitted from day one that I was not a doughnut maker. I’m a marketing guy.”
A San Francisco Bay Area transplant, Fine’s lived here for 12 years. His home isn’t far from his doughnut shop. That’s a plus due to the job’s early hours.
Fine wakes up at 2 a.m. and is at work by 2:45 a.m. He’s there until about 4:30 or 5 p.m. – and in bed by 7:30 or 8 p.m.
It takes about five hours to make all of the day’s cake doughnuts. Batches range from 2 ½ to 10 pounds of batter, and there are eight kinds of batter.
Batches of yeast dough take 110 minutes from start to finish.
“There’s a science to making doughnuts,” Fine said. “The great skill in creating excellent doughnuts is making sure your temperatures are where they need to be when the batter hits the oil.”
Doughnuts range from $1.35 to $2.75.
Look for Boston cream, raspberry, caramel-banana and key lime. There are doughnut holes, too – and old-fashioneds made with sour cream instead of buttermilk.
The cream cheese frosting is made in-house. And the glaze “doesn’t come out of a bucket and go right on a doughnut,” Fine said. The base is doctored with, for example, Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans.
Joleen Sadberry is the head doughnut maker. There are nine employees in all. Five are full-time. One is Fine’s son Harrison, a 20-year-old junior at Washington State University. He’s taking a year off from his business studies to help his dad start a business.
The image on the back wall of the open production area is of Fine’s younger son Tucker pointing to a picture of himself on the wall of a doughnut shop the family used to go to when they lived on the West Side.
The 16-year-old has a severe peanut allergy. Retro Donuts is a nut-free facility.
Milk comes from Darigold and is kept at 33 degrees.
“Our milk is ice-cold,” Fine said.
There’s no espresso. But there is a drip bar in a corner of the counter for the coffee, a special blend from 4 Seasons Coffee Co., a mix of Sumatran, Colombian and Costa Rican beans.
Beans are ground to order. Water is 211 degrees.
“We’re not a doughnut shop,” Fine said. “We’re a doughnut experience.”
For orders of more than three dozen doughnuts, he requests customers call ahead. The biggest order to date was 45 dozen for an event.
Perhaps the most exciting was a call Dec. 7 saying the rapper Snoop Dogg – who was in town to make an appearance at a pot shop – wanted two dozen of Retro’s best doughnuts.
Fine took a photo of the boxes he assembled for Snoop before people who said they were Snoop’s people picked them up. He didn’t post the pic on social media. But he might show it to you, if you ask.
Retro Donuts is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Friday and Saturday are busiest. But business ebbs and flows throughout the day every day.
In addition to the forthcoming South Hill location, the Fine brothers are considering future expansion to Missoula, Boise, Tri-Cities, maybe Moses Lake, Wenatchee and Yakima.
“We’ve already been contacted by people who want to franchise this,” Fine said. “Why not – someday? If it’s the right people who will represent the brand and are doughnut lovers?”
Meantime, Fine said, “We want to grow as responsibly as we can. That’s our goal: to be great at every location, one at a time.”