As every major media outlet is currently reporting, today is National Donut Day.
Yes, it is a slow news day.
As CNN informs us:
“Started by the Salvation Army in Chicago in 1938, the day honors the group’s “donut lassies,” who served treats and provided assistance to soldiers on the front lines during World War I. (And this isn’t to be confused with National Doughnut Day, which is in November and celebrates the actual food.)”
Donut lassies, eh? Alright, so, evidently, today’s more meant to honor the work of said female Salvation Army workers in the war, but that’s a branding issue, I’d say. If the Salvation Army wanted us to celebrate ‘lassies’ instead of donuts, they should have named it National Donut Lassie Day. Plus I can’t find any donut lassies around.
I can, however, find some amazing vegan donuts in this donut-/doughnut-saturated town. Chief among them, the many vegan offerings of Highland Park’s Donut Friend, a shop that takes the unique approach of giving their creatively made donuts punk, emo, and indie rock themed names, honoring the vibrant independent music scenes of the 80’s, 90’s, and aughts.
Odd taken at face value, but when you take into account Donut Friend’s owner + founder, Mark Trombino, drummer of the influential emo/post-hardcore band, Drive Like Jehu, things start to add up a little more.
Mark was gracious enough to take the time between prepping for National Donut (Lassie) Day and dealing with the drama of a breaking fridge to talk with us about the shops origins, why music-themed donuts works, and playing Coachella 25 years after his band’s formation.
raven + crow: Okay, so where in the world did this…very unique business plan come from? Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely love it, it’s just anything but expected, confection meets post-hardcore, emo, punk, whathaveyou.
Mark Trombino: Honestly it came from a visit I had to Donut Man in Glendora. The whole fresh fruit inside a donut kinda blew my mind a little bit. I wondered why every donut shop didn’t do it, and then wondered what would happen if you expanded on that idea, applying what Pinkberry was doing with yogurt to donuts. The music part didn’t come until much later. I think I was already pursuing Donut Friend full time when a friend and I started coming up with all these stupid names. At first I was reluctant to do it but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea of combining my past with my future.
What was the first Donut Friend donut you named—the inaugural friend? I assume the Drive Like Jelly?
Actually it was Jimmy Eat Swirl! I think the one after that was Rites of Sprinkles. Drive Like Jelly didn’t come until much later.
Love the Jimmy Eat Swirl. Speaking of the Jehu though, how was playing Coachella, man? We came by the tent for a bit and you all seemed to be having fun with it.
Oh man it was amazing. We had so much fun! Coachella was great, but playing the Casbah again after so many years was surreal. When I stepped back inside it I felt like I had never left.
And ya’ll are doing other dates around the country sporadically yeah? How’s that been going?
Yeah! At the end of this month we’re heading to Calgary and Iceland… ICELAND. That is going to be incredible. After that we’re doing Riot Fest and Fun Fun Fun, and probably (hopefully) some smaller shows around those big festival things.
Yeah, we’d love to see you play Troubadour or Echoplex or something. Is it crazy after all these years or does it come right back to you?
It’s weird how much didn’t come back to me! I kind of thought it would by now, but I’m still having to really think about what parts are coming next and making sure I get all the changes and stuff. I never used to have to think about that stuff.
Ah, I can only imagine. It’s like one of those dreams where you’re back in school taking a test you haven’t prepped for. Back to the sweets though—I know Donut Friend’s not 100% vegan but the large majority of your products are veganizable (totally a word). What compelled that move?
I just wanted Donut Friend to be a place where everyone could enjoy our stuff. You don’t need eggs and dairy to make an amazing donut, so why not make them without so as many people as possible can enjoy them? That was my thinking. I don’t want Donut Friend to be a vegan donut shop—I want it to be a fucking incredible donut shop that also just happens to be vegan.
That’s awesome, man. We love it. What made ya’ll zero in on Highland Park for the shop?
I used to live in Eagle Rock, so I’ve been familiar with Highland Park for a long time. When I started looking for spaces for Donut Friend, York just seemed to call to me. There was just so much energy and excitement moving into the area at the time.
Has the neighborhood welcomed the shop in pretty much?
Yeah, pretty much. We tended to be the poster child for gentrification in the area, but I think that has passed. Trying to sell a donut for $2 instead of $1 made us an easy target!
Yeah, you’ve been there a while, comparatively. Has anyone come in and been like ‘Why do your donuts all have such weird names?’
Not really, no. I think most of the people who come in have at least some understanding of where the names come from, and those who don’t don’t really seem to think about it too much. When we first opened I got such a kick out of hearing people who knew nothing about any of the bands on the menu say the names out loud. It was kind of the best thing ever.
Do you have a favorite, or is that like naming your favorite kid?
I used to say that Jets to Basil was my favorite, but I think Stiff Little Butterfingers may have taken the crown recently. That said, I eat either a Javabreaker or Husker Blue almost every single day, so who knows. There isn’t a single donut I don’t like.
Oh, I tried the Stiff Little Butterfingers just recently—totally one of my favorites now. And I just saw you have an apple pie with cheddar donut, Explosions in the Pie, (clear eyes, full hearts!) with a vegan option that sounds awesome. Any other new ones on deck?
I’m working on a few. The one I’m most excited about is a pear and ube donut I’m calling Pere Ube, or a banana & date number I’m calling Sunny Date Real Estate.
A donut made with Guyana purple yam—who’d have ever thought we’d see the day? Finally, is Donut Friend celebrating National Donut Day in any way this year?
We’re just going to have some contest/giveaways during the day. Maybe a reduced price on a few select donuts. I haven’t really decided yet!
Nice. Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us, man.
My pleasure! It was fun!
Visit Donut Friend at 5107 York in Highland Park, open 7AM-10PM Sunday-Thursday; 7AM-midnight Friday + Saturday.
Below, some of the many donut friends, including Bacon 182 (with coconut bacon), Walnut Voodoo (with vegan creme cheese), the aforementioned Stiff Little Butterfingers, Fudgegazzi, and more; Donut Friend’s formidable toppings bar; and a couple of the spot-on band-meets-donut tees. To the right, a peanut butter + jelly filled glazed donut topped with Sriracha…whose name escapes me. You can see Donut Friend’s regular menu online, but go in to see the full breadth of their offerings and seasonal specials.
Photo of Mark by Peter Holslin.