In our Tenant Spotlight series, we’re featuring the tenants that help shape our neighbourhoods and urban communities. Today’s spotlight is on a baking power couple from Edmonton who started their fresh doughnut business at a local farmer’s market and turned it into a destination spot for city dwellers and country folk alike. Meet the amazing owners of Edmonton Brewery District’s Doughnut Party, Matthew Conrad and Simon Underwood who are dominating the city’s pastry industry and revolutionizing the doughnut with their unique combinations.
Growing a small business is never easy, especially when leaving behind a career and a sense of job security. Ten years ago, Matthew found himself with a choice – to stay employed as a schoolteacher or take the risk and invest 100% of his time in his doughnut business. Though he was between teaching positions at the time, the uncertainty and risk of starting a small business was a leap out of his comfort zone.
Growing up, Matthew’s family loved to cook and bake, making him very comfortable and confident in the kitchen. Being in this environment, he was always surrounded by food, especially fresh dough. After honing his craft in his home kitchen between teaching positions, he began baking for friends and family; doughnuts proving to be the clear fan favourite. It was one of those friends that offered him a spot at their local farmer’s market to sell his already highly sought-after doughnuts. Upon opening Doughnut Party at the farmer’s market, the business grew exponentially, happily surprising both he and his partner Simon. They soon realized the major gap in the market as freshly baked doughnut shops were all but non-existent in Edmonton – aside from the local Tim Horton’s.
Matthew describes Edmonton as “a big city with a small-town mentality… when something happens here, everyone knows about it, and everyone is loyal”.
To keep pace with the growth, Simon began investing 100% of his time into the business. Working together, their differing idealistic versus realistic minds made the perfect match.
We’re partners in business, and partners in life– Matthew
With their continued success at the farmer’s market, the pair knew the next big step was a retail store. However, they first needed to perfect their recipe. Both attended various doughnut universities in New York, Kansas, and California. After comparing lessons learned from the top doughnut institutions in America, they created their ultimate recipe. The same recipe is used today and includes two secret ingredients that are still in the mix today!
In January 2017, the pair opened their first brick-and-mortar store, signing a short-term lease not far from Edmonton’s downtown core. The location wasn’t ideal as it was on a back street with minimal vehicle and foot traffic and limited parking. Despite its downfalls, Matthew and Simon thrived on social media, which drew crowds of hungry customers on opening day. From day one, their customers instantly fell in love with their vast selection of elaborate and unique flavours. After a few successful years, their lease was nearing its end. They had quickly outgrown the space and began looking for something more walkable, popular, and accessible.
Enter the Edmonton Brewery District, First Capital’s mixed use shopping centre on 104 Avenue NW, which checked all their boxes. Simon and Matthew loved its historic architecture, proximity to their home and previous location, the wide variety of quality small businesses, the abundance of parking (above and below ground), and overall neighbourhood synergy. Above all else was its central location in Edmonton, as they needed a flagship kitchen that could serve their current baking needs and service future satellite locations. This strategic kitchen placement would ultimately save on the overhead costs of individual kitchens at their smaller locations. It was clear that Edmonton Brewery District was the perfect fit!
Nearing the end of construction and grand opening preparations coming together, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the pair were forced with a harsh reality – the success of Doughnut Party was at risk. To make matters worse, their first satellite location in Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood had opened just six weeks before the onset of the pandemic, and province-wide lockdowns forced them to close. A few months later, case counts began to drop and they were able to officially open their first headquarters/flagship store in the Edmonton Brewery District in June 2020. Matthew and Simon were immediately overwhelmed by the success of the opening despite the pandemic!
Throughout the pandemic, the pair has found it particularly difficult to navigate through all the uncertainty. Since opening, they’ve adapted and survived the waves of lockdowns and physical distancing measures by creating the Doughnut Party contactless delivery service. Their goal was to make their beloved customers feel completely safe, while still being able to enjoy their one-of-a-kind doughnuts in the comfort of their own homes.
We called it the ‘Doughnut Party pivot’– Matthew
This month (June 2021), Matthew and Simon are celebrating their one-year anniversary at the Edmonton Brewery District. Despite opening during the pandemic, they’ve seen tremendous success and couldn’t be happier to call Brewery their new home and headquarters. The synergy they felt upon their initial visit of the property has only grown since their time here. Loving the Brewery District’s environment, they’ve befriended several of their neighbouring tenants, including Takiwa Ramen. Not only are they pleased with their new flagship store, but they would recommend it to any small business looking to grow their brick-and-mortar presence.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to jump into starting their own business?
Know that things aren’t going to come to you, it does require a lot of hard work… Put yourself out of your comfort zone, teach yourself, learn, and do things that you didn’t expect or weren’t part of the plan– Matthew
The story continues for Matthew and Simon. Using the Brewery District location as their baking headquarters, they plan on opening more satellite stores around Edmonton. In their future plans, they’ll be looking into new neighbourhoods, building on their social media strategy that helped grow their business initially. With the incredible success of Doughnut Party thus far, Matthew and Simon are hopeful and optimistic for the future of their business. In celebrating their one-year anniversary at the Edmonton Brewery District, they’re reflective on what this milestone represents, especially in such a trying year for small businesses. Matthew believes that if they’ve been able to survive and even thrive through this pandemic, they can get through anything.
Here at First Capital, we couldn’t be prouder of their success and look forward to seeing what’s next for these two amazing entrepreneurs. To learn more about Doughnut Party, check out their website and Instagram. Congratulations Matthew and Simon on your one-year anniversary at the Edmonton Brewery District!