Going clear back to high school days when I got involved in baking for 4H, it has left it’s mark on me to this day. Since that time it resulted in the pioneering of commercialization of yeast doughnuts in Ecuador.
Doesn’t that seem strange? In 1978, when doughnuts had been around for decades in the U.S., and are part of western history, yet in this small country far older than the U.S., they were non-existent. It took a year and a half before I realized this back in 1972 after our first move here.
The day came though, probably drinking a cup of coffee, when I realized I hadn’t had a doughnut and furthermore, hadn’t seen one. It’s not like this was unusual, as there were many food items I was accustomed to in the U.S. that were by no means standard fare in Ecuador.
I had made many cakes over the years, but never anything as adventurous as made with a yeast dough. My mom was great at making bread, dinner rolls, and anything made with a yeast dough, but I had never tried. Most likely in part because she always commented how difficult it was.
Boredom will give way to activity for some, and that was me in 1972. Teaching private English classes 4 hours a day was bringing in a reasonable income, but I still had too much time on my hands.
This, and the realization there were no doughnuts had me digging out an old cookbook Mom had either given us, or we had indefinitely “borrowed” before leaving. So leafing through the pages I found a recipe for yeast doughnuts. Reviewing the ingredients and instructions, it didn’t seem to difficult and I guess I was desperate enough to give it a try.
There was no knowledge of high altitude adjustments, and the first batch didn’t fare so well. However, the process didn’t seem all that hard and a second was made with very different results. The doughnuts actually came out good.
From there a business, if it could be called that, was started and subsequently failed for about every reason a business could go belly up! Still, I had much to learn about doughnuts.
Moving back to Indiana in 1974, and then to Texas in 1975, the notion of doughnuts in Ecuador never left me. Trying to get information about machinery I ran across a man who had been a consultant for Campbell-Taggart Bakery Equipment. They manufactured commercial bakery equipment and this gentleman was one of their top representatives, until a heart attack ended his career.
At that point he purchased two small doughnut shops in the suburbs of Dallas, and was also president of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Retail Bakers Association.
Somehow I ended up talking to him and related my story about doughnuts in Ecuador. He was intrigued as to how someone with absolutely no knowledge of doughnuts, much less any bakery background, could have accomplished what I had. This prompted him to invite me to the next meeting of the association as a guest speaker, to share how I had done what I had.
Out of this came and offer to work in his doughnut shops and he would teach me all I didn’t know. He said he wouldn’t pay me for my work, but he also wouldn’t charge me for what he would teach. He made good on his offer. I became both a student and very fast learner.
During this time because of his continued connections with the bakery equipment industry, and because I had mentioned seeing a small automatic fryer manufactured by Belshaw Brothers in Seattle, Washington, a surprising incident came about.
He mentioned to me one day that a he had received information that a bakery in Ecuador was in the process of importing the same exact system from Belshaw that I was interested in. To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement.
Part of the reason I had accepted his offer to teach me about doughnuts, was because I had finally decided we would go back to Ecuador and pursue doughnuts again. Doing so this soon had not been part of the plan. We had just purchased a house and were barely established in Texas.
As it turned out a trip was planned for a visit to family in Quito. It was the perfect opportunity to gauge the climate as to this being a good time to re-introduce doughnuts to Ecuador. It had been three years since leaving, and previously it was determined, by me, that the impulse buying habit had not yet become prevalent in Quito, and maybe in Ecuador. Doughnuts are an impulse purchase, so this was important.
In November of 1977, in 30 days our house was sold and we packed up and headed back to Ecuador. I had a plan for the business, which I had never experienced before. It was a grandiose idea, but it was a plan. It’s just that there was no money to put it into action.
Six months later an investor appeared and we were in production within a matter of weeks. It was easy going compared to my first experience of 20 hour days just three short years ago. Even I was surprised at how much I had learned since then.
For the next seven years a doughnut monopoly was enjoyed and the benefits, as well as disadvantages, that come with it. While I was great at production, finding outlets for wholesale, administration and finance were my greatest detriment. The business was constantly in danger of going under, as is common with most small businesses that are under capitalized at the outset.
Due to a failing economy in Ecuador in 1984, and with four sons staring college educations in the U.S. just a few years down the road, the decision was made to relocate back to the U.S. At that time is was impossible to do more than sell off the equipment, as no one was interested in a business, much less one that seemed to have it’s lifeline of success because of the “gringo” influence. Once the gringo leaves the business will die.
For the most part that’s what happened. Mostly due to a lack of vision, but that is of little consequence. In 1992 a man came from Canada, apparently to retire in Ecuador, and decided doughnuts would be a good business. The rest is sort of history and the doughnut business came to life once more on a much larger scale. Eventually around 1994 Dunkin’ Donuts finally entered the scene and today have 9 locations in Ecuador.
Now what is even more interesting is this. We retired to Quito in 2014. There was no intent to EVER get involved with the doughnuts or ANY business. Our retirement income was in place and we had no need for additional income. That plus the fact that labor laws were even worse than before, put an exclamation point after the NEVER!
You know that thing about “never say never?” So in a series of events we were selling some property. As it turns out, the interested party happened to have a small restaurant, and the property for sale was viewed as being in a strategic location for an additional local.
In the process of the sale, it was revealed that I had pioneered doughnuts in Quito. This brought about immediate excitement and there was a constant interest in exploring this idea more in depth for the buyers.
At first there was some resistance on my part, as I thought this may simply be a tactic to endear themselves with us as it might be to their advantage. In time it became apparent the interest was genuine and sincere.
As of this writing, it appears there may be a new player in the doughnut business in Quito. One that has a formula and know-how as no other.
Dunkin’ had approached me to be their license franchisee clear back in 1980, if I would pay THEM $100,000 for that right. That was declined and it wasn’t until 14 years later they finally made an appearance.
That product and all the others presently in production, have reduced the donut to it’s lowest quality that could be possible. While Dunkin’s products resemble those of the U.S., the others are a sorry example.
So as the process takes on more shape as to the way it is going to look, even 30 years later this seems to still have a life. It’s not often in a lifespan you get the “do overs.” Second chances are rare, but I’m not so sure what the odds are on a triple! This has all the earmarks of being an interesting story, so look for the updates. I’m going to make some more doughnuts!