Sunday, January 04, 2015

Chowzter North American Award Nomination - Pip's Original

Chowzter is dedicated to finding the Tastiest Fast Feasts across the world and we Portlandians are so lucky to have many of them in our very own city. Included in this year's nominations for Tastiest Fast Feast is the Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt Doughnut from Pip's Original Doughnuts, a locally-owned cafe in NE Portland serving made-to-order mini doughnuts and house-made chai. We were lucky to be able to sit down with the owners, Nate and Jamie Snell, to find out more about the story of Pip's.

Pip's started as a desire to fulfill Jamie's need for a larger kitchen space for her catering business, Lamb's Table Catering. The couple had found the perfect location--but there was one small catch. Using the space for a kitchen alone was not enough. Nate and Jamie would need to have a store front--something for the community, something that fit the Fremont vibe.

Thinking back on time spent in Seattle and a memorable first bite from a street vendor frying doughnuts on the spot, the couple settled on a concept. These street donuts were good, but it was the emotional tie to the trip and that first bite that really influenced the Snells to make a better version of these freshly made mini doughnuts. Nate and Jamie want to give their customers an emotional experience. They want their customers to remember that first bite just as they had. And they have succeeded! According to Nate, "Pip's receives love letters from across the country" from those who have sampled the deliciousness but live too far from Portland to return when the cravings hit. Nate also shared with us how much he loves watching the faces of the older generation light up when they come in and eat Pip's for the first, second, or even third time. They express that these doughnuts are just like the ones that had growing up--back when everything was made fresh--but have not been able to find again since childhood.

As I sat in Pip's, watching the line grow, the tables fill, and the plates of doughnuts disappear, I could see that it wasn't just about a mid-day sweet treat. These people were creating emotionally-tied memories. There were groups of friends chatting, young adults playing scrabble, little kids enjoying the collection of classic books, and a few times during our conversation Nate and Jamie paused to greet customers by name. As posted on their Facebook page, "Good doughnuts are good memories; Once eaten, never forgotten".

Nate and Jamie not only had the vision for Pip's but they built it! They drew up the plans, pulled the permits, and really built Pip's Original from the ground up. They did not get bank funding but instead used all of their savings. They wrote on their Facebook page, " We opened the doors completely broke, just hoping and praying that we would make enough money to be able to keep those doors open and our people paid. Because we had no money to go out and buy things to decorate the shop, almost everything decorating the shop is from our house, including the vintage chandelier". When Nate spoke with us he explained that, if it wasn't for friends and family, Pip's would not have opened. It took the entire village to see Pip's through, hence the name Pip's from Dickens' Great Expectations.

Once the counter was in place and the kitchen was fully functioning, Nate and Jamie started working on the delicious design of their doughnuts. It is Jamie's great sense of taste and masterful mixing of ingredients that creates the recipes for the doughnuts and the house-made Chai. We ordered the chai flight--which includes all five flavors--ranging from the very floral to the oh-so smokey and a little bit of everything in between. My favorite was the King and I, a slightly smokey yet sweet mixture, but my co-blogger goes for the Heart of Gold every time. The EmmyLou is decaffeinated while the rest are not and all can be made with whole, skim, soy, hemp, or almond milk.

Fun fact: the honey used at Pip's comes from the local NE Portland neighborhood near Pip's. The community rents out a piece of their backyard to house the bees and then the honey is collected from different homes around the neighborhood. How awesome is that? Again, this shows Nate and Jamie's commitment to community.

The made-to-order doughnuts are mini in size but gigantic in flavor! The menu currently offers Cinnamon Sugar, Nutella & Sea Salt, the Dirty Wu (named after a character on the Portland-based TV show Grimm), Candied Bacon & Maple, Pineapple-Bourbon, and the Raw Honey & Sea Salt. It's really hard to choose a favorite because they are all so very delicious but I can at least narrow it down to my top three. The Cinnamon Sugar might sound too simple but life's beauty often comes in the simplicity. It is the perfect combination of sweet and warm, soft crunch. I also love the Dirty Wu. It is their everything doughnut. It comes sprinkled with cinnamon and sea salt and drizzled with raw honey and Nutella. The Raw Honey & Himalayan Sea Salt doughnut--nominated for this year's Tastiest Bakery Item at the North American Chowzter Awards--melts in your mouth, giving you the joy of sweet and salty at the same time.

Family, friends, generosity, and excellence seemed to me to be the underlying creed of Pip's. They put family first. And they treat their employees as family. They take every opportunity to give back--through donations of money, goods, and time. In everything they do, they strive for excellence. As stated on their Facebook page, "We understand that excellence is a burden but it is one we will gladly bear because daily shouldering the burden of excellence is the only way to fight against the human tendency towards complacency and apathy. And hubris". As a part of their commitment to excellence, Nate and Jamie have worked hard to select the perfect ingredients (from the organic soy shortening used in the fryers to the locally-produced honey drizzled on top) and the best methods. Because Pip's doughnuts are made to order and flash fried at temperatures higher than you might expect, they are made to be eaten immediately. Take out is available, of course, but if you do take some cold Pip's doughnuts to a friend, you're actually doing them a disservice! Bring your friends to Pip's, sit down, and create some awesome memories together. For now, that's the best way to experience a mini made-to-order doughnut. Someday soon, however, Pip's will be on the go! The Pip's mobile is in the making and we can't wait to see it on the road.

We'll be in New Orleans for the 2015 North American Chowzter Awards later this week. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for up-to-the-minute details about the event.