How do you resuscitate Doughnut Time? Because as recently as March the brand looked all but dead and buried, a domino in the crumbling business empire of former owner Damian Griffiths.
The aborted eleventh-hour sale to former Griffiths lieutenant Dan Strachotta was the final nail in the coffin after store closures and Fair Work disputes over unpaid wages. Doughnut Time has been quiet ever since.
Until Wednesday night, that is, when the company’s Facebook page suddenly sprang back to life.
“We’re coming back and we’re bigger and better than ever!” read a post announcing Doughnut Time’s return. “Your favourite sweet treats will be returning to Aussie shelves once again. We’re talking your original favourites, plus vegan, gluten-free, high protein and keto options! Follow us for flavour updates and exciting new store openings.”
In a comment in the same post, the new Doughnut Time distanced itself from past troubles, saying: “We think what happened to past employees is unacceptable. We encourage any previous workers who have not yet done so to reclaim unpaid wages by contacting the Department of Jobs and Small Business.”
Behind the revival is new owner and South-East Queensland-based health food entrepreneur Peter Andros. Andros was apprehensive about taking on Doughnut Time in light of the bad publicity from earlier in the year but tells Broadsheet there is still plenty of promise in the brand.
“We looked at it as soon as I saw the news in the papers," Andros says. "I wanted to find out who had the IP … I saw a lot of problems, which is a good thing in an operations respect. Because we could do it better. The more problems we saw the more we got excited, because for us they’re opportunities. It wasn’t really planned. It just snowballed.”
Andros has extensive experience working with health food and drink brands in Australia and the United States under his company Biotech Bodies; the most prominent is Norti, a protein-bar business.
"[Consumers] can look at my background. I’ve paid all my staff and I’ve been in business for years," he says. We’d just bought the IP … We’re not trying to do anything special. We just saw a good opportunity and thought, ‘Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s pay all our staff. Let’s get all the people onboard.’”
Andros has worked hard to reconnect with old suppliers, saying he’s paid many upfront as a sign of good faith. Asked what he thinks Griffiths did wrong, Andros praises the former owner’s mastery of branding, but says it was a simple case of expanding too quickly.
“You’ve got to walk before you run and I think he sprinted,” he says. “Thirty stores in two years? Man. You wouldn’t have staff, you wouldn’t have procedures in place. You wouldn’t have income in the bank for a rainy day... I never talked to Damian but one day I’d like to sit down and know what happened.”
Andros’s initial plans might seem similarly ambitious. Starting with four stores in Melbourne, and another four in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, he’ll then follow shortly after with four in the Sydney metropolitan area.
“But I have the capital to do it,” he says. “So it’s different. I’ll be paying the bills. Twelve’s okay, but after that we’ll go a bit more slowly.”
As for what they’ll be selling, Andros is reviving Doughnut Time’s core menu of doughnuts while trying to improve upon a product he reckons declined in quality over the course of the original company’s run.
“We’ve developed a great dough mix by spending a little bit more,” he says. “It’s a $7 doughnut; we want to put prime ingredients in there … If someone is paying that much for a doughnut I want it to be all above board and that we’re doing it right.”
Andros is also adding to the range with a greater focus on vegan, gluten-free and low-sugar options. “I’m adding my spin to it with hemp-protein doughnuts. They’re [something] people might eat twice a week rather than once,” he says. “I think it’s time for something new to come out as we relaunch.”
Otherwise, Andros reckons it’s a careful dance of being upfront about the brand’s mistakes under Griffiths while making a fresh start. “I’m trying to separate it,” he says. “It would look really awful me attacking the past.”
Surprisingly, Andros says former staff are getting in contact wanting their jobs back, something he thinks demonstrates the strength of the Doughnut Time brand.
As far as the doughnut-eating general public is concerned, Andros says he’s been pleasantly surprised by some of the positive messages the new company has received on Facebook. He agrees it ties back to what he thinks made Doughnut Time a viable purchase in the first place – people’s ability to separate the ethos of the brand from the way it was originally run under Griffiths.
“I think everyone has got one person on their hit list,” he says. “I think that’s exactly what happened.”