The sweet, warm smell of donuts fresh from the fryer wafts from the kitchen to greet all visitors — an intoxicatingly cheery promise of what’s to come. And while Paula, her family and staff (one and the same, really), have become immune to that delectable scent, their customers — and even the local bank — certainly haven’t. It’s not uncommon, when making their routine deposits, to see a smile wash over a teller’s face when the money bag is opened and out wafts the subtle scent of sugar.
That’s the magic of Paula’s Donuts, a local shop turned institution over the past 22 years — and a culinary rite of passage for any newbie Buffalonian. (As a recent transplant myself, I lost count of the times I was told to get to Paula’s, right now, in my first month there.) What started as one store on the corner of Kenmore and Englewood Avenues in 1996, which is now a CVS, has naturally evolved over the decades into three locations, the creation of the monolith Texas Donut and a popular wedding and event catering business that includes custom boxes…so guests don’t resort to sneaking them out in napkins for later.
Devoted regulars. Overwhelming community pride. So what’s Paula’s secret? In truth, she has a few. But atop the list is quality, and the care and attention by everyone who works there to achieve that with each donut they sell. “Every day has to be spot on. We respect people who work hard and choose to come to us.” They start every day completely fresh, but never let anything go to waste. At the end of each day, Paula’s donates any leftovers to local shelters, including City Mission.
When doors open at 5 a.m., 64 dozen freshly made donuts in 40-45 varieties await at each location. By the end of the day, they’ve churned through over 300 dozen. Yes, that’s more than 3,600 donuts a day. For one week in March, they raised $5,000 for Hospice Buffalo by donating $1 for every Oreo special donut sold. The support goes both ways. “I love it here,” says Paula. “Buffalo is so community oriented. They back you.”
Paula’s family is an integral part of the round-the-clock business: Her husband, Chuck, their two daughters and both son-in-laws are all part of the trusted team they’ve built.
“I just wanted to have a business for myself. Do my own thing,” says Paula. “You have to love it to do it, because it’s 24-hours. And I love the people I work with and my customers.”
Making the peanut stick
1. Make the cake dough
Ten gallons of water (heated to a specific temp) and 50 pounds of proprietary cake dough mix are blended at two speeds until it comes together and just starts to tear.
2. Work it
The sticky dough is scraped out of the mixing bowl onto a well-floured work surface, where it’s loafed (folded in on itself) to achieve the right shape and height, then rolled out.
3. Cut it out
Unlike yeast dough, which is the fluffy base for the filled donuts, cake dough doesn’t need time to rise — as soon as its rolled out, it’s ready to shape. The cutter is dunked in flour after each punch to ensure it doesn’t stick.
4. Line the rack
Each peanut stick is lightly stretched out as its placed on the rack.
5. Drop in the fryer
The dough disappears into the hot oil (100 percent vegetable) then pops right back up. The sticks are nudged back into order with long wooden sticks then submerged using the hinged wire rack.
6. Flip ‘em
After a set time, the wire rack is lifted and the peanut sticks are ready to flip — one by one — revealing their cracked top surface. When it turns golden brown, it’s ready to come out.
7. Dunk in glaze
After a 30-minute time out to cool off, the peanut sticks are dropped into sea of glaze. Each one is turned over in the sweet coating to ensure it touches every inch, then placed in a wire bin that lets the excess drip off. 8. Finish with a toss. Once it’s dripped enough (the “finishers” can tell in a glance), the sticks get tossed in crushed peanuts — their definitive feature.
8. Ready for the case
A loyal following. The peanut stick is one of the hands-down favorites at Paula’s — and has earned the title of Best Dessert at the Taste of Buffalo more than once.
45 donut varieties, 2 doughs
At Paula’s, there’s only one of two bases for each of their concoctions: yeast or cake dough. Yeast is the go-to for many of the classics, including glazed, frosted with sprinkles and filled, while cake dough forms the beloved peanut stick.
The main difference? Yeast dough needs time to rise to form its light, fluffy texture. Racks of yeast donuts head for the proofer after being rolled out and shaped, where they spend 20-minutes in the warmth before heading to the fryer.
2319 Sheridan Drive, Buffalo; 8560 Main St, Williamsville; Southgate Plaza, West Seneca