On a given night, Christine Schaefer leaves her house at 9:00pm. She starts down 495 to 270 south until she arrives at a little red door in Alexandria at 10:00 pm. From here, her night runs like clockwork; she preps streusel, toasts coconut and makes custards and creams until midnight, when she starts the dough. After hours of rolling, cutting and proofing–the process that causes yeast activation–her doughnuts can enter the frier around 4:00 or 5:00am. From here, they get boxed and rolled out for 6:00am deliveries. From here, you enjoy them as a breakfast confection, a treat from your boss as you arrive in the office; it’s a delight in the morning but for Schaefer, it’s been a handcrafted labor of love since 9:00pm the previous day.
When I ask her when she sleeps, she pauses and laughs, “Uhhhh, usually from around six to noon or one.” Do you have a a social life? “Ugh, I wish. I try to make time because it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.” Christine Schaefer’s social life died for your dietary sins, though she swears she wouldn’t have it any other way. This infectious commitment is just one of the electrifying aspects of District Doughnut, one of D.C.’s newest doughnut shops.
When I first arrived in their Northern Virginia test kitchen, Schaefer and Greg Menna–District’s hype man/delivery system hybrid–were prepping four-pack boxes for the National Apartment Association’s conference at the Omni; large orders are the name of the game for District Doughnut, I’m told, at least until they find their storefront. Once this happens, Menna says, all of D.C. can enjoy their small (and small-batch) doughnuts with gourmet espresso pairings thanks to Caffe Amouri, one of the only small-batch roasters in Northern Virginia. It’s a point of pride that a custom espresso bar in the space will inevitably pair well with not only their Mocha Crunch doughnut (topped with chocolate covered espresso beans) but all of their offerings, from the Caramel Apple Streusel (their take on the classic apple streusel pie with freshly diced, sautéed apples, original recipe dough and caramel with crunchy streusel) to their Cannoli, which might we add, was a huge hit at Donut Fest; with vanilla beans and bits of semi-sweet chocolate and creamy ricotta, we could see why.
In fact, if Donut Fest was any indicator, doughnuts are the new trend in desserts. When I ask Schaefer what sets District apart from a slew of competitors, she says, “One, definitely our size. We want to go with the smaller size so people can try more doughnuts than one. Two: they’re freshly made. Our strawberry jam for the peanut butter and jelly is sliced and boiled into a jam by me. No matter what, we will always make it like that. The apples in the apple doughnut I peel and cut all by hand. And three, I would say our flavors. We like to choose international flavors. [Co-founder] Juan Pablo is from Argentina so I made the dulce de leche for him and we import the caramel from Argentina.” (For those keeping score, the caramel in the Dulce is the only ingredient they don’t make in house; they tried and found there to be chemical difference from a product straight out of Argentina. We’re not complaining.)
So will the doughnut trend stick around? Menna wholeheartedly believes so.”You’re not making cupcakes here. I can’t wait for the day when people realize the thing they just paid $3.50 for, they could have made themselves for nothing. But I tell people just TRY to make a half-decent doughnut.” Menna’s pride in their product–almost bordering on cockiness–is well-founded. Their doughnuts are flavorful and for those curious, the size does matter. (Though after trying all four varieties in the kitchen that day, I could easily see how a “they’re small, one more couldn’t hurt” mindset could, in fact, cripple one’s diet substantially.) They’re lighter than a cake doughnut, as all of their bites are yeast-based.
And before District settles on a District spot, can you still check them out? Absolutely. Schaefer bakes roughly 75-100 doughnuts per catering order though if you’re not feeding an entire staff, there’s still hope. Menna hand-delivers the doughnuts (in a suit, no less), and takes extra doughnuts with him on every run. Follow them on Twitter here, where Menna announces delivery sales for individuals while he’s out on major catering deliveries; first person to respond is the first person to get the goods, effectively creating a lightning storm of demand. Make that one more electrifying reason to get excited about District Doughnut.