James St. Peter is the hippie and creator behind Dallas' very own Hypnotic Donuts. His dream of making doughnuts started out with Spanish-based baking lessons in the wee hours of the morning, then grew to selling doughnuts from the back of a Ford Expedition, and eventually led to a retail spot near White Rock Lake. St. Peter is a pusher of boundaries, not only with his doughy creations but with things like the world's spiciest doughnut eating contest and BYOB Bingo.
We spoke with him recently, and he shed some light on his quality-control process, what he learned and subsequently forgot in corporate America and what selling doughnuts has taught him about human nature (hint: there are one-percenters).
How's the doughnut business? It is awesome like the life of a gnome in a magical mushroom field.
How would you describe your business model? Opposite of almost everything I learned in corporate America.
Chef April Barney recently told me you hired one of her kids from DISD to work in your kitchen. What do you try to teach a young kid whose whole life is right there in front of them? 1. Learn as much as you can about the thing you are passionate about. Do not get caught up on how you learn, just make sure you learn. 2. Be patient. 3. Follow your dream, not the dream others have for you. 4. Never take things for granted, never settle. 5. Surround yourself with people that are better than you in areas you are weak. 6. Sometimes you have to be an ass because if you are not people will run over you (one of those harsh facts you have to tell them about). 7. At the end of the day, make sure you are having fun.
What have doughnuts taught you about people? That everyone is very different. That 99 percent of the people are great. Then you have the 1 percent that are just entitled pricks you never want to see again (and we make sure we don't).
Do people ever get surly about doughnuts in the wee hours of the morning? Sure. Heck, we get surly serving them sometimes. We are all human.
If you had to pick one, what's the doughnut of Dallas? Jenny's Evil Elvis. It's copied everywhere now (which is cool, it's flattering and we got the idea from one of our followers, Jenny, who submitted it on a Facebook contest that we created). Plus, it was one of the top 10 Instagramed photos in Dallas last year or the year before.
Favorite part of the job ... the moment when you say, "Yeah, we did a good thing here." 1. When we get emails, Facebook posts or Tweets thanking us for bringing this to Dallas. In line with that, emails we get from across the country asking us to open a shop in (fill in the blank location). 2. When people bring friends or families in that are visiting town. 3. People that wait for 30 minutes in line and then still smile and are kind when they get to the front.
Do friends drive you crazy with that "time to make the doughnuts" line? Next question.
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Do you regularly try other doughnuts for "research"? Of course. I would be stupid not to. I have made trips to Chicago, New Mexico, Oregon, Seattle, Austin, etc. to see what others are doing. I have many more trips lined up. However, I am very conscious to respect what others have done and try to approach it as -- how is their base product and what is their business model. I am not a big fan of just copying everything someone else does. Do not get me wrong, I did not invent the yeast raised donut or the maple bacon donut. That credit goes to The Salvation Army and Voodoo Donuts respectively.
Some ideas you just have to implement, but when 75 percent of your model is based on ideas from other businesses it shows you do not know what you are doing or you're just legally stealing. Example, with this whole cronut craze, you will not see us grasping for that business.
How many doughnuts do you eat a week? Part B: Do you ever get tired of doughnuts? That ties into the previous question. When I travel, probably 1 or 2 a day. At the shop it probably averages about 6 a week because I am always testing our product (in bites, not usually the whole donut).
Part B: No. We have so much variety and they are so good I have yet to get tired of them.