Hey, shouldn’t Pittsburgh have had a doughnut boom by now?

I mean, there’s a hipster indie doughnut shop in almost every city across the country, with all kinds of artisanal twists on classic fried dough and lines out the door. Where’s ours?

Portland has Voodoo Doughnut, New Orleans has District Donuts Sliders and Brew, and Austin has Gourdough’s. All of them are not only super popular with locals, but places people plan trips around when visiting these cities. The same cities, by the way, that Pittsburgh is frequently grouped in with when talking about great new things happening in food.

So when do we get our hot new doughnut place? A place where doughnuts are the main event and you get a contact sugar high just walking into the shop — if you can get into the shop. 

The good news is there’s going to be more sweet dough in our future.

Duck Donuts' made-to-order creations. Photo by Duck Donuts.
Duck Donuts’ made-to-order creations. Photo by Duck Donuts.
Duck Donuts’ made-to-order creations. Photo by Duck Donuts.

Duck Donuts is betting that the boom in Pittsburgh is on, and that it’s time to make the doughnuts . . . right now. The popular East Coast franchise, with roots in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is opening its first Pittsburgh outpost this spring in the South Hills. Located in the Siena at St. Clair retail center, the new shop is adjacent to Whole Foods and across from the South Hills Village Mall.

Andrew Jarusinsky, franchise owner for greater Pittsburgh, thinks people will fall in love with the made-to-order vanilla cake doughnuts just like he did while vacationing with his family in the Outer Banks a few years ago. He was so smitten by the sweet goodness that when he learned about a franchising opportunity in 2015, he decided to make a career change. Now he’s all about the doughnuts.

Duck's Vanilla Cake Doughnuts. Photo by Duck Donuts.
Duck’s Vanilla Cake Doughnuts. Photo by Duck Donuts.
Duck’s Vanilla Cake Doughnuts. Photo by Duck Donuts.

“They’re a little crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, made fresh right in front of you, hand-dipped in hot icing and sprinkled with delicious toppings,” says Jarusinsky. The dough doesn’t even hit the fryer until the order is placed and they’re “completely customizable with endless possibilities,” he notes, adding “Customers love seeing the donut making process right before their eyes.” Customers first select a “coating” like cinnamon, glazed or vanilla icing, then add topping and drizzle choices if desired.  

Jarusinsky thinks the “thriving, family-focused community in the South Hills” is the perfect spot to introduce this new shop. But it’s not the only neighborhood in town where a fresh doughnut wave is gaining momentum.

Yeast-raised doughnuts from inside the Pub Chip Shop. Photo by Just Good Donuts.
Yeast-raised doughnuts from inside the Pub Chip Shop. Photo by Just Good Donuts.

It’s not a big secret anymore that some of the best doughnuts are being made inside The Pub Chip Shop (of all places) on the South Side. Just Good Donuts, operates right inside the Scottish fish and chip shop on Carson Street. They serve up fresh yeast-raised doughy concoctions with deliciously interesting flavors and toppings like coffee cream cheese buttercream, hot chocolate, cocoa puffs and caramelized bananas, just to name a few. Available every day starting at 6 a.m. right inside The Pub Chip Shop, demand for these doughnuts is increasing. According to shop manager and head baker, Mindy Heisler, options are currently being explored downtown for a stand-alone shop. 

Relish Co.’s 100 percent vegan yeast-raised doughnuts have been wildly popular at pop-up events, most recently at The Vandal in Lawrenceville where they flew off the trays. Owner and head baker Abbigail Hansel makes beautifully decorated doughnuts which she kneads by hand. She also creates all of her own flavor extracts and icing dyes from natural ingredients. Additional pop-up events at The Vandal are in the planning stages and custom ordering is available on her website.

Of course, there are still quite a few local favorite doughnut shops that have been around for a while that are popular in different parts of the city.

Big Daddy’s Donuts in Crafton is a favorite for middle-of-the-night doughnut runs. They’re open 24 hours a day, baking mostly at night for all your warm and fresh doughnut needs.

Doughnut lovers have been making the trek for years to Oram’s Donut Shop in Beaver Falls for their one-of-a-kind cinnamon roll doughnut. Be warned, if you want to get in on the goods, you need to get there early.

Better-Maid Donut Co. in Crafton Heights is described by locals as one of the best-kept secrets in Pittsburgh. Served warm and fresh in a non-descript building, there’s always a steady line of neighborhood regulars ready to empty the shelves.

And Peace, Love and Little Donuts in the Strip have built a loyal following for their handmade little donuts in their 70s-inspired shop on Smallman St.

Are these old standbys about to see more competition? Keep your tastebuds in practice just in case.

Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.