At Strange Donuts, the center of the shop’s strategy is collaboration.
From making a beef pho jelly-filled donut topped with hoisin sauce to deconstructing a donut into a yeasty version of spaghetti and meatballs, the shop’s calling card is its weekly "Stranger," a Bizarro World donut that’s only offered Thursday through Sunday.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, the St. Louis bakers revived a charity-funding favorite Stranger from last year: The Outreachus Turkey. Topped with smoked turkey from local Food Network favorite Pappy’s Smokehouse, the donut’s name is a pun of Outreach Us—a local nonprofit that provides nutritional support for those living with HIV/AIDS or cancer—which Strange Donuts raised more than $1,000 for this year.
Cofounders Corey Smale and Jason Bockman took time out from planning their Thanksgiving dones (the hipster abbreviation for "donut") to talk with us about how collaboration drives their innovation—and give us the recipe for the Outreachus Turkey.
What’s the plan behind all the collaborations you do around St. Louis?
Bockman: One, it’s fun. Two, for the cross promotion of it. In about two weeks, we’ll be doing donuts with Sidney Street Cafe, whose chef, Kevin Nashan, is consistently rated one of the best chefs in the world. So there will be stinky 14-year-old kids in the shop standing next to people in tuxedos at Strange Donuts. It will be cool. And the people that will come to our store for $5 and experience James Beard-level execution, they probably can’t afford to go his restaurant. And we get exposed to his clientele.
Do donuts really need to be hip?
Smale: That value comes from the experience. And that experience is what I’m obsessed with. That’s like from having a collaboration with Mishka, who’s from New York and has other jobs in L.A. and Tokyo and comes into town and say, "Let’s do a shirt together," and we release it at the shop —to having this band called Perfect People, a straight edge hardcore band, and 30 of their friends play inside and jump off the countertop and stage-dive. I almost cried watching that. That’s shit I dreamed of doing and they’re doing it with care and respect too. They’re moshing, but not too hard because they don’t want to break the donut case.
Q: How did a collaborative culture around the "Stranger" begin?
Bockman: Creation breeds creation. We really did our first collaboration—Brisket & Gravy—with Mike Johnson of Sugarfire Smokehouse. That was in our scrambling days. We told him, ‘If you want to help us out, let’s do a collaboration.’ He brought a couple of five-gallon buckets full of brisket. We were on a shoestring budget and asked, "How do you want us to pay for it?" He looked at us like we were stupid. He was like, "I want you to win. Take this. I’m bringing more tomorrow." That’s how this started—and that was us reaching out to people that we had respect for.
Smale: We had the concept in mind that we were going to do these more elaborate, savory-style donuts. But when Mike presented that and people saw that collaboration, it was an immediate success—and we need to do this next week, and the next week.
What does innovation mean to you and your business?
Smale: We have people invested in us creatively, and, also, professionally. We have a dude who started as dishwasher and had not a lot going on, now he’s got a place to stay, and he’s got a job, he’s the manager of both stores and he drives our Smart car, and he’s like the brand advocate now. And that’s some organically grown shit that we did on our own.
Want to build your own Outreachus Turkey? Here’s how they did it:
- Start with a yeast-based, sweet potato donut.
- Inject it with a homemade cranberry, toasted walnut and pineapple jelly.
- Top it with sweet potato glaze, candied walnuts and smoked turkey.
Bravo! Thanksgiving dinner in a handheld form.