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Are doughnuts the new cupcake?

By Nick Freshman

Friday - 2/1/2013, 9:45am  ET

Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner of Spider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon.

Donuts

Are doughnuts the new cupcake?

I have to confess that writing that line has me shaking my head. If you think restaurant professionals understand every trend, think again. A lot of us have no idea where this stuff comes from (although the nexus for the most avant garde trends seems to be Brooklyn).

While Arlington is rarely the birthplace for the latest and greatest, we certainly seem to have a knack for embracing what is once it gets here.

Temples to the cupcake trend have popped up everywhere in the DC area, with multiple cupcakeries within blocks of each other, celebrity visits (Suri Cruise, no less), and even cupcake-based TV shows. Who saw that coming? Nobody, frankly.

So how long does the trend last? Forever? Another year? I thought cupcakes would come and go a couple years back, but I was clearly wrong. And who’s to say they won’t be here forever? After all, hamburgers were a fad at one point.

But a threat has arrived: America’s breakfast workhorse is on a tear. No longer the exclusive domain of Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, doughnuts have been popping up on menus everywhere—and not just at breakfast. Two places that are set to make waves this year are GBD (Golden, Brown, Delicious) in Dupont and Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken near Metro Center. The former is the latest from local trendsetters Neighborhood Restaurant Group (of Tallula and Rustico fame) while the latter is the brainchild of two local boys, one of whom (Jeff Halpern) recently played for the Caps.

With big-time backing like that, will this trend be here to stay? And should we look forward to “artisanal” doughnut shops in Clarendon? No, I don’t think so. I see the market for a place that sells only — or mostly — doughnuts having a tough time. I truly wish the best for anyone willing to take a leap of faith and start a business — I can attest to the fact that it is scary and it isn’t easy. But a doughnuts-only operation is a tough sell. The margins in our business are slim, and it often takes being able to offer a variety of products to a variety of potential customers in order to sustain your business. Krispy Kreme, in fact, is a great example: their explosive 26% growth so far this year is due in large part to the expansion of their menu far beyond doughnuts. Juice, smoothies and oatmeal — yes, oatmeal — are a big part of their turnaround.

What it takes to break even — let alone profit — in Arlington is a lot. Rents are not going down, commodity costs have been rising steadily for a couple years and it seems that wherever a fixed cost can climb, it will. You need to be busy all the time to make it; especially if your store is small and sells low ticket items. This concept seems limited; plus I wonder how much you can charge for a doughnut? I’m amazed to see what a good cupcake goes for, but what would you all pay for a doughnut? And will you buy enough to carry the business? We’ll see. I can’t imagine this trend growing as rapidly as the cupcake one did. Which isn’t to say that a couple of well-run shops won’t make it; I think they will, and I look forward to supporting them. And then going to the gym.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.