Comfortable just selling doughnuts, Knead grows operations

“We decide today on tomorrow’s doughnuts!” The baker at Knead Doughnuts put the finishing touches on the last of the next day’s baking and more than 20 varieties were ready to hit the fryer and head out the door. Spring sunshine streamed through the sparkling, clean windows of a restored industrial building on the south side of Providence.

“We are able to keep the lights off and just use natural light,” said baker-manager Chrissy Rehm.

Knead recently expanded its artisan-doughnut production to a 5,000-square-foot commercial kitchen previously operated by a food incubator. The company now has much-needed capacity to handcraft even more gourmet doughnuts, including what the doughnut-makers refer to as “alternative styles” such as vegan and gluten-free. A retail doughnut shop – Knead’s third – is slated to open at the new production space later this spring. In the meantime, the facility is turning out the treats by the hundreds, led by the signature vanilla-glazed raised doughnut.

The new location is already home to Knead’s doughnut production. Proprietor and co-founder Adam Lastrina conducted a tour of the facility and pointed out that Knead’s gluten-free doughnut is a flourless recipe, glazed in a separate process from the regular ones, and baked, not fried. When Lastrina and his two partners were formulating their business plan for Knead, they zeroed in on a signature doughnut.

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“We decided that we were going to resist the trend of ‘who was going to have the craziest doughnut and the most-wild topping,’ ” he said.

EXPANDED PRODUCTION: Knead Doughnuts recently expanded its artisan-doughnut production to a commercial kitchen previously operated by a food incubator in Providence that handles production of more than 20 doughnut varieties.
 / COURTESY KNEAD DOUGHNUTS/TIMOTHY MACKENZIE
EXPANDED PRODUCTION: Knead Doughnuts recently expanded its artisan-doughnut production to a commercial kitchen previously operated by a food incubator in Providence that handles production of more than 20 doughnut varieties.
 / COURTESY KNEAD DOUGHNUTS/TIMOTHY MACKENZIE

Lastrina, along with Todd Mackey and Bryan Gibb – proprietors of Bolt Coffee Co., made the commitment that their venture would create an “amazing,” signature doughnut. The award-winning, gourmet doughnut shop opened its first Providence location at 32 Custom House St. in December 2016. A second Providence storefront opened in April 2018 at 135 Elmgrove Ave.

Company executives do not rule out further expansion beyond Providence. In addition to its own locations, there is a burgeoning wholesale operation out of the new facility serving numerous small bakeries, coffee shops and cafes throughout the state, including the Empire Tea & Coffee locations in and around Newport. The hipster coffee shops in the city, such as White Electric and Bolt Coffee locations, feature Knead doughnuts. Lastrina comes from a baking background. He spent 13 years as general manager of the well-known Seven Stars Bakery before going out on his own.

Knead’s success story took a slight Brady Bunch turn early on. The spacious, efficient commercial-kitchen operation came with a few food entrepreneurs who had been leasing commercial-kitchen access. Lastrina and his partners saw an opportunity to become food mentors and support businesses that, as he put it, “are right where we were just a couple of years ago.” Seven startups are now operating in the Knead facility, also known as Providence Kitchen Collaborative. They include Brown Paper Bounty, Fountain & Co, and Long Live Beerworks, which will operate a brewery and bar just steps from Knead. Lastrina does not rule out a future beer-doughnut collaboration.

Knead crafts its doughnuts with locally sourced, wholesome ingredients, including Little Rhody eggs and Wright’s Dairy Farm milk.

Invariably, comparisons are made to the Dunkin’ behemoth chain of shops that recently dropped the word “Donuts” from its name.

Lastrina appears to be quite comfortable in the place Knead occupies in the marketplace.

“We haven’t wavered in three years,” he said. “We make doughnuts and we happen to sell drip coffee. We haven’t added espresso, bagels, egg sandwiches or soups. We are proud to have ‘Doughnuts’ in our name because that’s what we do!” n

Bruce Newbury’s Dining Out radio talk show is heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on 1540 AM WADK, on radio throughout New England, through various mobile applications and his podcast. Email Bruce at Bruce@brucenewbury.com.