Coffee and doughnuts (not “donuts” — we’ll explain why later) may be an American staple when it comes to food combinations, and there are certainly myriad places where you can pick up humdrum varieties as a breakfast treat or afternoon pick-me-up. But two new spots in a pair of fashionable Oakland artisans’ alleys take the classic pairing to another level.
Both Hannah Hoffman, who opened Doughnut Dolly three months ago, and Luigi Oldani, who launched his espresso place The CRO Café two weeks ago, have poured their hearts as well as their business chops into their respective start-ups. Both are intensely personal projects, and, happily for East Bay foodies, combined, the results are delicious.
At Doughnut Dolly, a beautiful space with painted striped walls, custom wood cabinetry, a black and white checkerboard floor, and an expansive marble counter, the donuts are hand-rolled and filled to order. Hoffman, who studied food anthropology, and whose mother, Lisa Goines, was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, took a year to perfect her recipe while deciding whether to open a food truck.
“I started selling the donuts on the black market, at events, and at pop-ups,” she explained on a recent Sunday in between greeting a steady stream of customers to the shop which is off 49th Street, around the corner from Temescal food hot-spots Pizzaiolo and Bakesale Betty.
After her fluffy pastries developed a following, Hoffman decided to try for a brick-and-mortar place and turned to Kickstarter where she raised over $12,000 to launch the business.
Her goal for the doughnuts: “They should have a nice chew but be very light and soft without tasting greasy or artificial. And they shouldn’t be too sweet.”
Her signature filling, dispensed from a series of lovely German-designed, counter-mounted machines, is “Naughty Cream,” made of crème fraîche and vanilla beans; other flavors, some of which are seasonal, include Lemon Curd, Mexican Chocolate, and Wild Yellow Plum Jam. Hoffman sources her fruit fillings from local purveyors INNA Jam and the Kensington Marmalade Company. She also offers Jittery John‘s New Orleans-style cold brew coffee, which is made with chicory.
As for the store’s name, Hoffman explains that Dolly Doughnuts were Red Cross volunteers who would bring coffee and doughnuts to soldiers in WWI trenches. And why the non-American way of writing “donuts”? “Because it’s the proper spelling,” she says simply.
An alley over from Doughnut Dolly — they almost share a back wall — Luigi Oldani’s CRO Café is already a destination spot for espresso aficionados, although he’s only been open a couple of weekends and is still putting the finishing touches to the space.
Oldani, a metal fabricator and former engineer at Tesla, crafted his mobile coffee cart a while ago, and was most recently to be found outside the shuttered Café Fanny (now Bartavelle Coffee and Wine Bar) on Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue. Like Hoffman, he’s found a more permanent home.
He says he was motivated to find a vocation which would enable him to interact with people, and to nurture relationships with them based on his product.
“I forfeited my engineering career to live life more locally and be more present in the community,” he says. He also named the café after his daughter Camille, whose middle initial is R for Rosemary.
Cult caffeine purveyor Sightglass Coffee was his first client after he set up his East Bay metal fabricating studio. He worked with them to build out their San Francisco space and, after that, as he puts it, he “fell down the well of coffee.”
Oldani, who serves traditional espresso drinks and hand-drip coffee using Sightglass roasts, admits to being geeky about coffee and clearly dotes on his carefully restored Italian espresso machine. “I love how tricky and volatile making coffee is. There’s a technique and knowledge that’s required, but it’s still about making something that tastes good.”
Soon Oldani says he will be making affogatos for the First Friday gatherings that happen in the Temescal alleys on the first Friday of the month. “Charlie [Hallowell] from Pizzaiolo cooks up burgers on the grill, there’s beer and a good scene,” he says.
Just one more reason, if you were looking for one, to take a stroll down Temescal alley.
Doughnut Dolly is at 482 B 49th Street at Telegraph on Alley 49. Open: Wednesday Sunday, 8am-3pm (unless sold out). The CRO Café is in Temescal Alley (behind Pizzaiolo and Doña Tomas), open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday 8am-5pm.