Owners Behind Pandemic Donuts Turn Their Hardship Into a Successful Side Hustle

Torrential downpour of hardships often arise during global pandemics like COVID-19 but sometimes a sliver of opportunity peeks through. Like many service industry workers, Gabrielle Henning and Michael Milton were both laid off due to government-mandated restaurant and bar closures. The combination of a needing to stay afloat financially and an underlying passion for establishing their own doughnut shop led to the team’s side hustle —  Pandemic Donuts.

All photos courtesy of Pandemic Donuts.

Henning and Milton met working at Improper City. It was the coffee shop inside this massive bar and community space where Henning and Milton fostered their personal relationship. Henning — a classically trained culinary chef got her first job as a pastry chef at a winery in Napa Valley, California. Originally from Colorado, she moved back after gaining pastry experience and went to work at Stowaway Kitchen creating various pastries —including creatively flavored doughnuts.

While Milton may not have the same hands-on culinary experience, his Saturday morning doughnut runs for his family has always held a special place in his heart. Rather Milton’s vast knowledge in coffee roasting and over 16 years of experience has set the foundation for future roasting opportunities — once this unique situation passes.

Like a lot of new start-ups these days, these two started baking and promoting their treats on Instagram. Due to the incredibly appetizing appearance of their creations,  the seemingly hopeful endeavor blew up almost overnight.

In light of the current global health situation, the team at Pandemic Donuts is baking out of a home kitchen and offering curbside pick-up or delivery only in the Denver metro area.  Initially, orders were solely being placed through Instagram direct messages, but the increased popularity led to setting up an official website.

Their fried doughnuts come in two styles: yeast or old fashioned.  Each day, there are only certain flavors available at a time. For example — Wednesday offers a strawberry, lime or a powdered sugar old fashioned doughnut; Thursday offers a peaches and cream variety or a blueberry streusel option and Friday offers a root beer float old fashioned doughnut or a cherry and coconut doughnut and so on. The flavors are subject to change — each day usually offers at least two to three more flavor options.

Henning has received a lot of requests for gluten-free options but while she is still working out the kinks, that is definitely something on her radar.

Once everything goes back to normal, Henning and Milton hope to open a brick and mortar location or rent a spot at a community space in Denver to turn this side hustle into a serious food venture.

The initial three weeks was all about getting on their feet. Now that they have found some steady ground, future plans include sending at least three dozen doughnuts to Children’s Hospital and even offering the opportunity for customers to donate a dozen when purchasing for themselves. Milton’s coffee enthusiasm is coming to fruition as Pandemic Donuts partners with Queen City Collective Coffee for cold brew and coffee beans to accompany orders in the near future.

“It’s been a mix of people just wanting donuts and also wanting to help others in need. I think it adds a lot to the experience, not only is it conquering a craving but it’s also for a good cause,” Henning said.

Even though Pandemic Donuts was created in a time of uncertainty and panic, Henning and Milton acknowledge the weight and seriousness of following CDC guidelines in maintaining healthy preparation and delivery of these goods.

Months from now, when you walk into a shop called Pandemic Donuts for a dozen on your way to a friend’s house, you’ll be able to remember the strong sense of community displayed when the world stood still. 

For more info on ordering go here.