On a recent Saturday at the Boulder County Farmers Market in downtown Boulder, a young couple are overjoyed to find gluten-free donuts. A man purchases a box of dairy-free donuts to bring home to his wife. Repeat customers come by to snag more of the flavors they already devoured from their home deliveries.
Covid-19 and a hoped-for baby helped bring these donuts to life.
Like many of us, the pandemic left Patty Wilson, 46, jobless. But it also presented her with an opportunity – to return to her love of baking.
The farmers market doesn’t bustle as it once did. The vendors cannot give out samples and the visitors do their best to keep their distance from each other. Despite this, Patty cheerily greets her customers. A sense of normalcy emerges, a reminder of a classic Boulder summer. I watch eyes widen as they land on the stacks of donuts and pastries.
Patty moved to Gold Hill in the foothills above Boulder from Dallas with her husband, Kevin, in 2015. Soon after, she landed a job at local catering company A Spice of Life as a pastry chef.
After doctors told her that her polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) left her with little chance of getting pregnant, Patty and Kevin put aside thoughts of a family and focused on their career. In late 2018, however, Patty got pregnant, but miscarried.
After consulting doctors, the couple decided to pursue in vitro fertilization (IVF), which carried a $46,000 price tag.
They contemplated getting second jobs, but Patty and Kevin decided to fund their family more creatively – by reigniting Patty’s baking dream.
On a long drive to clear her mind, she came up with the hashtag #bakingforbabycakes and knew that donuts, as they so often are, were the answer. In October 2019, her business, Chef Patty Cakes, was born, or rather, resurrected.
A dream reborn
In Texas, Patty launched a brick-and-mortar pastry shop called Patty Cakes, which opened in 2009. It lasted four years.
“My husband and I were both running the shop and we saw each other every day, but we didn’t really see each other,” Patty says. “It wasn’t the bakery I really wanted. I swore I wouldn’t do cupcakes, but that’s what I ended up doing because that’s what the customers wanted.”
In March, when her Spice of Life job ended, Chef Patty Cakes blew up. Despite the unemployment setback, Patty saw the opportunity to break out of the big batches and repetition of the catering world and revisit her dream.
Her inbox flooded with messages from people looking to satisfy their sweet tooth without leaving home. As the quarantined masses grew tired of their homemade banana bread, they turned to Patty for treats delivered to their door. She offered cake and yeast donuts in chocolate and vanilla, as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. Her orders increased from under a dozen to around 65.
After borrowing space from a Spice of Life, she moved into a commissary kitchen on May 1; she spends three days baking and a fourth day on production each week.
As the weeks passed, her menu grew and changed. She added seasonal flavors to the mix, including strawberry, blueberry, cherry, and peach. The menu grew with non-donut choices as well: pop-tarts, scones, cookies, donut holes and “scrappy bags,” an homage to Patty’s Oklahoma upbringing.
“Whenever my mom made pie dough, she’d have leftover pie scraps,” Patty says. “She’d butter them and sprinkle cinnamon sugar on them as a snack for us kids. We always repurposed our leftovers, so I started frying and tossing my donut scraps in powdered sugar. The result is a cross between a beignet and a funnel cake.”
A donut future
Patty just wrapped up her last Saturday as a guest vendor at the Boulder Farmers Market but will begin tabling Wednesday nights in August twice a month through October. Her order form for home deliveries, found on her Facebook and Instagram pages, currently opens every Monday and closes Thursday, at which point she starts production for weekend deliveries.
She has hinted, however, that she will begin alternating weekend and weekday deliveries to accommodate those going back to school.
Raising the funds necessary for IVF is slow. After getting laid off, the donut sales acted as financial support while Patty sorted out health insurance, a kitchen space, business licensing, and other startup costs. She anticipates beginning to make a profit in August, and saving away for baby.
Patty still has a way to go before reaching her fundraising goal, but she remains positive and continues to work hard towards her future family, one donut at a time.
“Making people smile really is my passion. This has brought it back and I’m enjoying it immensely,” Patty says. “Talking to customers and making people smile reminded me the joys of owning my own business. Seeing the kids in the windows waiting in their pj’s for donuts probably is the best part of this.”