Luck, Hard Work and Coffee Are a Winning Combination for Union Square Donuts

[Updated 2/19/15: Union Square Donuts now operates out of its own shop at 20 Bow St. in Union Square six days a week.]

One of the first people I interviewed when I started writing about Somerville was Josh Danoff, who was selling kombucha at the farmers market via the company he and his siblings had started called Culinary Cruisers. They later expanded to making and selling popsicles under the Ocean Ave Pops brand. But it was when he joined forces with master baker Heather Schmidt to form Union Square Donuts that things really took off.

“You’ve seen the growth of this more than anybody else,” Danoff said to me recently when we sat down to chat about his burgeoning business and its move to a permanent home.

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Union Square Donuts started in the shared space at Kitchen Inc. (201 Somerville Ave.) in late 2012, but soon outgrew that location. The company moved to 16 Bow St. in May of last year, sharing the space with Cafe Tango. With demand increasing, it was time for Union Square Donuts to find a permanent home. And it will do just that when the business moves into 20 Bow St. later this year.

“One of the great things about starting a small business is you don’t know what course it’s going to take,” Danoff said. “It’s been a matter of production limitations since the onset, of not being able to make enough donuts. It’s all better than the alternative. For that, we feel very lucky.”

Indeed, Union Square Donuts has been regularly selling out since it opened on Valentine’s Day 2013. In addition to the shop in Union Square, the donuts are sold at Voltage Coffee (295 Third St., Cambridge) on Friday mornings, at Olives & Grace (623 Tremont, Boston) on Sundays, at the SoWa Open Market (500 Harrison Ave., Boston) on Sundays and at various farmers markets in Somerville, Cambridge and Boston. You can also order donuts for delivery on Thursdays and Fridays and Union Square Donuts will cater special events, like weddings.

“It’s a great part of our business. They inform each other,” Danoff said of vending at the markets and having a permanent shop. Ideas for new donuts, like the vegan ones now rolling out on Saturdays, and being able to adjust operating hours have come from customer requests.

“We gotta give the people what donuts they want,” Danoff said. “One of the good things about having a small business is that [changes] can be implemented quick. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process.”

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After fitting its production into other locations, Union Square Donuts will now be able to design and build a space that allows the company to meet current demand and leaves room for future expansion. As for when the new shop will be open, Danoff said that all depends on how fast the permits come through.

“We can set it up in a way that’s most efficient,” Danoff said of the new location, which will have some seating and also vend coffee, popsicles and kombucha. “We can minimize the challenge points to make more donuts and make more flavors. We’re definitely going to expand the days and hours of operations.”

Another part of the business that will grow as Union Square Donuts expands operations is the staff. The company is currently hiring and while many of the bakers have previous kitchen experience, Danoff said people’s personalities have been more important than their backgrounds.

“We have this really great team of people that work so hard and go above and beyond to do this every single day,” Danoff said. “You need to have that mix of people with a culinary background and people that didn’t. It can be more about the person and their love of this.”

After deciding Union Square Donuts needed a permanent home, Danoff said they looked at all available options with the hope of staying close to their current location.

“We wanted to stay in Union Square, but there’s a limited number of spaces,” Danoff said. So when the storefront just a few doors down opened up, they leapt at the chance to move in.

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Danoff attributes the success of Union Square Donuts to luck and hard work–and lots of coffee.

“You create your own luck, but you also need help,” Danoff said. “It was just the right product, at the right time, at the right place. Things just kind of lined up correctly. And we drink lots of coffee.”

Luckily for Danoff his beverage of choice goes perfectly with donuts.

“We take our business really serious because it’s our business. But it’s donuts,” Danoff said. “If we’ve had a tough day, we can reward ourselves with a donut.”

One of the pitfalls of running a bustling business is not having the time to take it all in from a larger picture point of view. But the upcoming move has given Danoff a chance to do just that.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is not taking that time to reflect because there’s always so many things to do,” Danoff said. “I need to remind myself what has happened in such a short period of time. I need to remind myself of where the donuts go. Of all of the donuts that go places, all of the people who have had them.”

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