East Lansing's Groovy Donuts: Retro Atmosphere and a Sense of Community

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Friday, June 1, 2018, 7:39 am
Sarah Spohn

29-year-old Andrew Gauthier quit his corporate job and opened his first donut shop in Williamston in 2015. The next year, he expanded Groovy Donuts to a second location in East Lansing (3054 E Lake Lansing Road). Today, business is thriving and on National Donut Day (Friday, June 1), the deal will be even sweeter.

To celebrate National Donut Day on Friday, June 1, Groovy Donuts will be hosting a special event at The Peanut Barrel (521 E Grand River Ave, East Lansing). In place of buns, entrees like the famous rodeo cheeseburger will be served on glazed donuts or mini apple fritters. An exclusive custom Peanut Barrel donut will also be served. Donuts and donut burgers will be served from 11 a.m. to close, while supplies last.

The MSU alum moved to the Big Apple after graduation, and began working at Wells Fargo Securities in NYC. After two years on Wall Street, Gauthier realized he was not where he wanted to be. Gauthier switched out the suit and tie for a powdered sugar-covered apron.

“I got to a point where I started getting a little frustrated working in financial services,” Gauthier said, “and I didn’t really like the atmosphere. You really have to be a salesperson, and I didn’t enjoy it.”

Though the paychecks were nice, Gauthier knew his heart wasn’t in it. “I didn’t want to tread water in careers … I didn’t want to feel like a mercenary. I didn’t want to be doing it just for the money.”

He turned to the business knowledge he’d learned in college and his experience as an investment banker when starting his own business. Initially, the idea was to open up a café, and have coffee, but also some type of baked good.

“I really wanted to be involved in something that I knew would have a hand in making people’s day better,” Gauthier said. “That’s what led to the initial idea.”

After he approached his partner Monica Lucas about the bakery idea, they began brainstorming on how the business could set itself apart.

“He came back to me with the idea of donuts. He asked me what I thought, and I said I hated donuts,” Lucas laughed. “He said, ‘no that’s not true, I talked to your family – you used to like them when you were younger. It’s probably just because you haven’t had a good donut in years, because there’s no good place in town.’”

The next day, their kitchen counter was covered with donuts from all over the state. The pair taste-tested flavors, glazes, and various styles of donuts and baked goods. Two weeks later, a business plan was ready, and was proposed to banks for funding.

Although the couple had no professional food background, the concept for the business venture came pretty quickly. Growing up, Gauthier bussed tables at his parents’ barbeque place and ‘50s style diner, in exchange for quarters to play arcade games. His father would make pizza, and Gauthier and his brother took the leftover dough, fried it, and rolled it in powdered sugar.

“There’s nothing quite as good as a warm piece of fried dough with sugar on it,” Gauthier said. “It’s one of those simple pleasures in life. It’s comforting. It’s delicious, it just makes you feel right at home.”

Groovy Donuts pays homage to that retro experience.

Groovy Donut’s atmosphere is…groovy, with colorful music posters, concert footage on television screens, and coffee cups with a psychedelic logo courtesy of local artist Dennis Preston.

“You walk into a coffee shop these days, and it’s either like corporate wall-to-wall, or it’s like super hipster,” Gauthier said, “like if you don’t have two inch gauges, wearing skinny jeans that are going to cut off your blood flow, then you don’t fit in there. I wanted to find something that would be comfortable and a fun experience for everybody.”

The atmosphere may be the first hook, but Gauthier says the interaction with the owners and staff makes people return customers.

“It’s the experience of interacting with us and really feeling at home here” Gauthier said, “and that’s something we want to experience when we go into local places”

Lucas and Gauthier also say the ingredients also set Groovy Donuts apart. Their products are made from scratch daily. Gauthier said he doesn’t particularly enjoy baking every day at 2 a.m., but he knows it’s the only way to ensure a fresh product.

“You can’t build a good foundation on a weak product, or by cutting corners,” he said.

Groovy Donuts also sets out to be a mainstay in the East Lansing community.

“We’re trying to do a lot of good for the community, fundraising and charitable stuff, and I’m proud of what we do,” Gauthier said. The sweet shop has worked with KCS Angels, weekend survival food kits for children, and gives donations of leftovers to foodbanks and homeless shelters each day.

“This community in East Lansing -- there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration among local businesses,” Gauthier said. “It just feels like most people have that kind of mindset, and I don’t think you necessarily get that everywhere.”

“What I think that people realize and understand now…is that getting together and helping promote each other, and making sure we keep the local businesses together is very valuable, and it builds great relationships. It just adds a lot of character to the area.”

At the end of the day, after the fryers have been cleaned, and the floors mopped, Gauthier and Lucas report feeling satisfied. Despite working sometimes 80 hours a week, the pair says the physical labor and long hours are ‘worth it.’

“I am happy with what I do every day,” Gauthier said. “I know I’m doing something that’s going to make somebody happy every single day. It could seem like the worst day ever, and you see a little kid bite into a donut and the smile on their face just makes it 100% worth it.”




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