Most people who are early risers go for a morning run, catch the daily paper, make a trip to the local coffee shop, or get a head start to beat rush-hour traffic. But there are others, privy to the know-how of a rare treat right underneath our noses. These people wake up before the sun to stand in a line that wraps around the block. Come rain or shine these people anxiously wait for The Doughnut Vault's pretty blue door to open. If you don't know about this local secret then listen up because you will most certainly want to see what all of the fanfare is about.
Every morning on my way to the office I've passed by a long line of people braving the early morning chill waiting for . . . doughnuts! Since I'm famous for my obsession with anything and everything covered in frosting, glaze, sugar, and chocolate -- basically, if it's sweet I'll devour it --- I simply had to join the ranks. Like any true sugar fanatic would, I got the scoop.
The Doughnut Vault (located at 400 ½ N. Franklin & Kinzie) is a frosted jewel in the River North area. Its hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday opening at 8:30 a.m., and 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The catch is, the "Master of Dough" (a.k.a. Brendan Sodikoff, who also owns Gilt Bar and Maude's Liquor Bar) at The Doughnut Vault only makes several hundred doughnuts each morning. Once the doughnuts are gone, they're gone and the pretty blue door closes. With limited amounts of the deliciously sweet golden rings being available you can see why people race the sun on hopes of getting there early.
Arrive early and wait in line: easy, right? Wrong.
There are rules to being a patron of The Doughnut Vault.
Rule No. 1: Get there really early for a good spot in line.
Rule No. 2: No cutting or saving spots. You snooze you lose.
Rule No. 3: CASH ONLY. That's right. No plastic, only green.
Rule No. 4: Know what doughnuts you want when you order. No hemming and hawing. Get in and get out.
Rule No. 5: Only six doughnuts per customer max! Don't be greedy. Share the confectionery wealth with your fellow doughnut lover.
And that’s why The Doughnut Vault will work. It’s exclusive. There are no franchises, no grocery store end-caps, and no 7-Eleven distribution strategies. This business is hyper local, and the only over saturation comes from the glazes.
But what makes them so popular? Part of it is the doughnut , but part of it is the experience of getting one.
With the rules listed, cash in hand, and doughnuts on the brain I was set! Up at the crack of dawn I stepped in line (which already had two dozen people already ahead of me) at 7 a.m., with a sturdy umbrella and a cup of coffee I waited to see what was so amazing about these doughnuts.
Passing The Doughnut Vault's threshold, it was exciting to find an absolutely minuscule but charming room. It was like something out of a fairy tale: lit with soft lighting by beautiful small crystal chandeliers, decorated with 19th-century-inspired tiled walls, mirrors, and an antique gilded cash register.
At the counter was a young lady with a smile and quick hands while greeting and accommodating each doughnut-craving guest. Buttermilk ($2), glazed ($3 each; hazelnut, chocolate, or vanilla), and gingerbread ($2) were my selections. I snagged one each with a fresh brew of java ($1 a cup) and was sure to contribute to the tip jar.
Feeling euphoric and satisfied with my journey and experience at The Doughnut Vault I couldn't wait to taste the decadent pastries. The fresh handmade buttermilk and hazelnut glaze doughnut were fabulous (shared the chocolate and vanilla glaze with loved ones, naturally)! Delicious, sweet sticky glaze, light and fluffy but with good substance to the cake/dough...all I can say is "yum."
In my opinion The Doughnut Vault by far outdoes any commercial brand. With the shop's growing success via word of mouth (attracting sweet-tooths from down the street to as far as Michigan), minute-by-minute postings on Twitter (announcing daily flavors, the number of patrons in line, countdown to available goodies before completely selling out) and positive critic reviews you would expect Sodikoff to branch out and expand.
But why ruin a good thing if it works? Having a small, reliable and hard-working team that creates a product which is obviously in very high demand, there's no need to bite off more than he can chew--even if it's this delicious. After a month in operation, the tiny shop has earned its success and fans to endure any future food fads. We Chicagoans "know our food" and will definitely be keeping our treasured cravings at The Doughnut Vault.