Have you ever had a Boston creme donut, filled and glazed fresh to order, just for you? So the chocolate glaze is still beautifully wet and shiny, like an object of edible art when it’s passed your way?
Or perhaps you’d prefer a cannoli donut, filled to order, then dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a flourish of ricotta cream. This is just the place to get them. And, whoa, the aroma alone will draw you in, straight from the roadside trailer where they’re made fresh each day.
An air horn sounds as a truck rolls by on Route 81 in Higganum on a Tuesday morning. Owner Jeff Blaschke and I wave from the bright orange picnic tables. “That happens a million times a day,” he says with a smile. Open just five weeks, Redneck Gourmet Donuts is putting Higganum, Connecticut on the map. “We have approximately a thousand customers on a Saturday and Sunday, each day. Maybe a little bit more on Sunday.”
When asked how the word got out, Jeff laughs. “Crazy. I honestly don’t know. We do everything fresh. That’s the big thing for us.” I should mention “we” is comprised of Jeff and his wife, Debbie. “And then, it’s a small town, and we own the ice cream shop (H-K Dairy Barn) a couple doors down. We already had a following. And the people in this town are phenomenal with support.” So, let’s just say opening day was a high dollars to donuts ratio.
The H-K Dairy Barn opened in late June last year. Jeff says they average about 2,000 customers a day for ice cream. “We buy it from Foster’s in Avon, who makes it local. We call him on Sundays, he makes it Mondays, and he’s on his way down here today with it. It’s all 16 percent butterfat, the best of the best.”
But, back to the donuts. “We get up at 2:00 in the morning. We make all the donuts here every day and the muffins and stuff.” If donuts and muffins aren’t your morning style, they also sell cookies and buttermilk biscuits, made fresh daily, as well as bagels and cannoli made to order.
“Most popular are the apple ciders. And then those Boston cremes are right up there. The oldest thing you’ll ever have here, if you come at 11 a.m., is five hours old. And the apple ciders? We make ’em all day.”
One bite into the Boston creme, and I knew this was different. The exterior fine crust of the donut provides a light crispiness before you get to the pillowy center and richly filled custard within. Similarly, the cannoli donut provided the same delightful contrast, but was loaded with a sweet ricotta filling with mini chocolate chips.
The maple walnut is decked out in a sweet maple frosting and rolled generously in chopped walnuts.
The apple cider donut, rolled in cinnamon sugar, is a taste of fall.
Then, how about a PB&J … donut? True to Redneck style, it’s positively brimming with raspberry preserves, then artfully frosted with peanut butter and topped with crushed peanuts.
I asked the newly “retired” cabinet maker and carpenter of 40 years, how he came to be a donut maker. “I made a kiosk in the Buckland Hills Mall for this guy, Faddy’s Donuts, who had a trailer outside Cabela’s. I said to my son, ‘You know, Ryan? This ain’t that hard. We could learn to do this. I bet this would go huge down near our way. The only thing is, I want it to be like the fair atmosphere. I don’t want it to put it in a brick-and-mortar. I want to put it in a trailer. I want it to be that people come like they’re getting it from something special ’cause there’s nothing like this around.’”
“My son hated the construction business. I told him, ‘You’ve got to do something you love. Life is too short not to do what you love.’ So, we built that (the H-K Dairy Barn) last year. And it was an instant hit. We stayed open all winter. Once you taste our ice cream—all my stuff, really—you’ll see. I want it to be the best. And customer service, I’m hell-bent on customer service.”
Jeff goes on to share, “We did our first event last Saturday where we took it off site. We did a fundraiser for the school. And we got invited to the Durham Fair, which is really cool. The lady that runs it tried our donuts and called us and said, “Fill out our application, we want you to come.”
“We love doing this. I want to make it successful. I’ve always run businesses. And once I feel it’s successful enough, mom and I are gonna go ahead and take off.” That’s where Jeff and Debbie’s real retirement plan comes in. Ultimately, their son, Ryan, and future daughter-in-law, Paige, will be running the show.
Meantime, it’s 10:30 in the morning and people keep coming. After all, Route 81 is a main artery connecting Route 9 to the shore. How’s this for a business plan? Jeff explains, “I have cameras on our ice cream shop, so before I ordered this (trailer), I was there at 4:30 every morning, counting cars going down 81. And we average about 200 cars an hour from 4:30 to 7:30 going down the road. So I said, “If I can get half of them or a quarter of them, we could have a successful business. And we’ve actually gotten more.”
Oh, to think now I really must go back to try the ice cream, too. I just might walk there to see if I can work off all the donuts I tried.
Redneck Gourmet Donuts is located at 968 Killingworth Rd. (Route 81) in Higganum, CT.
Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 to 11(ish) a.m.
Saturday, 6 a.m. to noon(ish)
Sunday, 7 a.m. to noon(ish)
H-K Dairy Barn is located at 986 Killingworth Rd. (Route 81) in Higganum, CT.
Open Sunday through Thursday, 12 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 12 to 10 p.m.