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Go inside Dunkin’, Duck Donuts with FT Undercover


Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien’s French Cream donut.

In a world full of waaaaaay too many choices, many of them disgusting in the case of donuts, happening upon Le Pain Quotidien was a respite. We hunted around the charming French Market in Chicago for about a half hour, finally finding The Dapper Doughnut, the intended target that turned out to be closed. (Yelp, where were you on this one?) Dapper’s online photos included the Nutella Dream, oozing with globs of strawberry jam, the Grandma smothered with graham crackers and even a donut unfortunately mixed with Pop Rocks candy—proving the point about possibilities gone bad. But in Le Pain Quotidien, which means the daily bread, there was just one donut and it was a beauty: the French Cream, with a donut more bread-like than sweet, a dusting of powdered sugar and a good 2-plus inches of whipped cream infused with vanilla and just a touch of sugar, for $4.29 and 490 calories. Beautiful wooden tables, including a community table with 18 seats, giant bowls with no handles cradling deliciously creamy cappuccino, and even a server who came to the tables rounded out an elegant experience.

The upshot: When the single donut choice at bakery-restaurant franchise Le Pain Quotidien is the gorgeous French Cream, a pinnacle of perfection, who needs the low-quality, high-sugar gimmicks? —BE

Duck Donuts

A specialty selection from Duck Donuts.

While I didn’t need to use the kid-friendly step to get a good view, I just as giddily watched my donuts get the glaze, topping and drizzle treatment at Duck Donuts, which specializes in made-to-order donuts of just about every combination imaginable. Glazed with rainbow sprinkles, blueberry pancake with maple drizzle and chocolate icing with toffee crunch are a few of the combos we tried, each one delicious without crossing into too-sweet territory. Donut franchises started popping up in increasing numbers a couple of years ago, many marketing outrageous topping flavors to go along with overly sweet confections. The test of a truly top-notch donut, however, is what’s underneath. At Duck Donuts, it’s a simple vanilla cake donut that’s the star of the show, and because each is freshly made, they’re still warm for those first bites. The seating at the suburban location we visited outside Minneapolis wasn’t exactly conducive to settling in to enjoy the donuts, however, something the brand might want to evaluate, especially since its menu, including coffee and espresso and even a couple breakfast sandwiches, lends itself to a dine-in atmosphere. Bonus points, though, for the adorable duck-themed design and donut puns. An emerging brand, Duck Donuts also smartly uses its packaging to market the franchise opportunity.

The upshot: The made-to-order aspect at Duck Donuts enhances the experience, and at only $1.85 a pop it’s affordable to indulge.  —LM


Dunkin’ wins for an efficient sugar fix.

With every boutique, gourmet donut location that pops up with a fancy $4 donut, it gets a little harder—and more expensive—to be the break room hero. But let’s be honest; while that brown-butter glazed brioche donut is fantastic, so are the tried-and-true sugary-sweet carb bombs you get at Dunkin’. When I walked in to this suburban Minneapolis store, an employee made it exceptionally easy and already had a donut box ready. All I had to say was, “A dozen assorted please,” and he sent me along to the counter for my coffee order. It was all over in the span of about 2 minutes and I was back on the road with a dozen donuts, a coffee and an apple fritter for myself. A well-oiled sugar machine, to be sure. But the best part was playing the hero back at the office and watching donuts disappear, a half and a quarter at a time. Being able to do that for about $13, not $50, was a treat for my wallet, too.

The upshot: It dropped “donuts” from its name but Dunkin’ gets the job done, though it may not capture those wanting fried dough on the specialty side. —NU

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