The Glam Doll Appeal
A dad and his young daughter sat inside Glam Doll Donuts enjoying an after-school doughnut break. The young daughter wiggled in her seat, not sure whether to focus on the chocolate frosted, rainbow-sprinkled Starlet doughnut that sat before her or watching as Glam Doll owner Arwyn Birch, 33, drizzled strawberries with hot pink frosting behind the counter. It was a rare quiet moment in the store, with only a few customers sitting beneath the shop’s pink ceiling and art-covered walls enjoying the store’s flirtatiously named doughnuts. Outside, a vintage-clad woman wiped away a chalkboard wall advertising the store’s first year anniversary party. A pregnant woman joined the father-daughter doughnut date. The family stood at the counter talking with Birch, who had been joined by her co-owner, Teresa Fox, 34, who was decorating the store’s maple frosted Showgirl with its bacon topping. The young daughter, still watching the doughnut making, told Fox and Birch she was going to be a sister. Fox then suggested the family bring in a note from the doctor with the baby’s gender. She offered to create gender-reveal doughnuts with either blue or pink filling, saying that she had also done this for her friend and it had been a hit.
The personal relationship Fox and Birch form with customers is just one factor contributing to Glam Doll’s success after its first year in business. For Birch and Fox, who are roommates, travel partners, and-- as a friend said, such close friends they “could be common-law married”-- this friendship has translated into success selling doughnuts on Minneapolis foodie destination, Eat Street. Everything, from the store’s pink ceilings and vintage-clad employees, to a doughnut menu with ingredients ranging from Sriracha hot sauce to bacon to blackberry Hennessey, reflects the pair’s collective passion for food, fashion, music, and all things vintage. And since the store opened its doors in 2013, its uniqueness has brought it recognition both locally and nationally, such as winning consecutive City Pages Best of the Twin Cities Awards to being named one of Thrillist’s 21 Best Donut Shops in America.
Fox and Birch never imagined Glam Doll would get such a positive response in such a short amount of time. But although the store’s wild success came as a surprise to Fox and Birch, Alicia ‘Lulu’ Danzig, a friend of the two, knew all along the store was bound to be successful. “Glam Doll is like the Prozac of Minneapolis; we have these awful winters, but when you walk through the door, it’s like a little bubble in the city,” Danzig said. “You can go in there and it just warms your heart.” The idea for a doughnut shop wasn’t one that Fox and Birch fostered since childhood, rather an idea they stumbled upon more recently. For nearly fifteen years, both worked as waitresses with Birch creating fashion lines on the side. Then a trip to Portland changed the course of their lives. The two visited Voodoo Doughnut, an eccentric bakery with round-the-clock hours and a menu ranging from doughnuts topped with Captain Crunch to an anatomically correct specialty called the Cock-N-Balls. Fox and Birch felt that Minneapolis was in the market for a doughnut shop of its own and headed home to try.
Fox and Birch worked away at the idea in their free time. Danzig recalled when they first told their friend group about their plans to open a doughnut shop. “We were all so confused. We didn’t know it interested them,” Danzig said. Birch can understand her friend’s hesitation. “Prior to this trip, Teresa and I had become quite well known among our circle of friends for being free-spirited travelers careful to keep our responsibilities low to afford us our carefree lifestyles,” Birch said. “It was largely because of this that our friends were a bit slow to take us seriously in this endeavor.” But eventually the dedication Fox and Birch had for their doughnut shop became apparent. “They drank, ate, and slept doughnuts until that place was a reality,” Danzig recalls.
Fox and Birch spent nearly seven months looking for the perfect location to house Glam Doll. They knew Minneapolis was the home of their store, but still considered several locations in Northeast before discovering their current location among Nicollet Avenue’s 17 blocks of Eat Street, which had lay vacant the entire time of their search.
After a name and location were decided upon, Fox and Birch turned to the design process for their store. They wanted something eclectic, classic, and playful and they wanted that vintage-inspired theme with a modern twist to be reflected in everything from the logo, to the menu boards, to the doughnut boxes, to the website. Mutual friends connected the pair with fledgling designer Carly Wright, a visual arts graduate, who helped bring that vision to life in the form of hot pink doughnut boxes and a mouth-watering website. Drawing inspiration from 1940 pinup girls and vintage packaging, Wright created the logo: a bodacious pinup girl lounging on giant hot pink doughnut, winking, as if to tempt customers inside.
Fox and Birch dreamt up everything in Glam Doll, from the mismatched pastel couches with their delicately placed throw pillows, to the bright red doors of the bathrooms, to the tiles on the floor. Danzig, the owner of Minneapolis-based LuLu Painting, helped bring that vision to life going off the Glam Doll logo and the personalities of Fox and Birch whom she met through mutual friends nearly seven years ago. “They have incredible style. Anyone who knows and meets them can gauge they’re doing something interesting and different,” Danzig said of the inspiration she used in painting everything from the store’s pink ceiling, to spray painting the counter in the women’s restroom with a coat of silver glitter.
As the store’s opening approached, Danzig listened as Fox and Birch expressed their nervousness. They were uncertain about their opening, having never owned a business before. But Danzig didn’t worry for a minute. “They didn’t know it,” Danzig said of the store’s success. “My team and I knew.”
Opening day arrived and Fox and Birch opened the doors of Glam Doll to a city that had long awaited its presence. Today, Fox admits the success came from Day One. “We’ve had an unreal response,” Fox said. “The moment we opened the door, we had a line.”
People wait in Glam Doll’s line for many different reasons. Maybe it’s the doughnuts, maybe the atmosphere, or maybe just the store’s overall uniqueness, but nothing about Glam Doll is ordinary: doors stay open until 1 a.m. on weekends; there is a full line of vegan doughnuts; and Donut of the Week recipes have ranged from a specialty called the Banoffee Betty to a passion fruit doughnut topped with avocado buttercream. On top of the smorgasbord of ingredients that Glam Doll incorporates into desserts, it may be one of the few places in the Twin Cities where it’s not uncommon to see a bare midriff or two behind the counter or Birch trying to scrub the wooden floor while simultaneously keeping the three-inch hemline of her vintage dress in check. Since it’s opening, customers have found a home in Glam Doll just as much as the store has found a home in the Twin Cities. This admiration is expressed in different ways: one elderly woman looked around the store in awe before exclaiming, “This is where I belong!” while countless others have snapped pictures of their doughnuts and posted them to Instagram—the modern equivalent to a five star rating.
Social media has largely shaped Glam Doll’s success, drawing customers in with tantalizing close-ups of doughnuts and behind the scenes pictures. The shop keeps its 3,300 Instagram and over 7,200 Facebook followers updated with weekly posts. “Social media, like Instagram and Facebook, has done everything for us,” Fox said, shortly before heading off to get a picture of that week’s featured doughnut on Instagram.
An hour later, the Glam Doll’s Instagram picture of the Paradise Puff, a mixture of pulled pork, grilled pineapple, and salted caramel cream, had already earned nearly 100 likes.
On a recent Saturday, the shop’s mismatched pastel furniture was pushed to the walls. The wooden floor in the seating area of Glam Doll had been taken over by men and women twirling and spinning across the room. It was Dance Day. Several times since its opening, Glam Doll has hosted Uptown Swing Association, allowing dancers to take advantage of the wooden floor, while customers enjoy the entertainment and doughnuts. This particular day, the store was packed from wall to wall, with some customers taking their doughnuts to go and enjoying them in the sunshine in front of the store.
Rick Carlson was one such customer. Carlson, the pianist for the band playing for the group of swing dancers inside, reminisced on the first time his group was called for a show at Glam Doll. Carlson drove up with his keyboard and amps and waited for his band mates, uncertain that he was at the right place. “It’s a doughnut shop!” he said, reenacting his initial shock at discovering the venue. If the dances didn’t keep Carlson coming to Glam Doll, the doughnut he discovered after his first time playing Dance Day probably would. “This one I get without fill,” he said gesturing down at his Showgirl. “I don’t even have a sweet tooth, but I gotta have a bacon doughnut,” Carlson said, taking a bite.
It seems like everybody wants to have a piece of Glam Doll, both as a customer and an employee. Since the business started gaining publicity, more people have been interested in finding a job behind the rows of doughnuts flying out of the display case. The employees are a tight knit group, and it can be hard to find a worker who will fit into the Glam Doll family. “We need people who fit perfectly,” Fox said of growing the staff, “And we’ve had people who don’t.”
One person who passed that test was Vanessa Kaczmarek, who had been hired as a barista after she saw Glam Doll’s posting on Craigslist. Kaczmarek, who had been working at Glam Doll for three days, stopped in for a doughnut on her day off. She attributed the shop’s success to the aesthetics and, of course, the inventive doughnuts. “I’ve eaten a lot of doughnuts,” Kaczmarek said.
With a successful first year in the books, one can wonder about the possibility of expansion, a thought that Fox and Birch have considered. But for now, they aren’t saying whether they plan to expand. “We want to make sure this one can run itself before we move to the next location,” Fox said. But when they are ready for expansion, nothing is for sure on the location: maybe Northeast, maybe St. Paul.
Looking to the Glam Doll’s second year in business, both Fox and Birch seem optimistic. Any worries the women of Glam Doll do have about the future successes of their store are worked through during weekly meetings that allow the staff to discuss the store’s next steps. “I think we were all equally surprised at its wild success,” Birch said. “I attribute this largely to keeping our business vision right and focused, and never stopping to get comfortable for too long.” And although they may try not to get too comfortable with their business model, they both seem comfortable with where their vision has taken them. In the words of Fox, the two are living out their dream. “There’s nothing better.”
Cover photo by flickr user jpellgen.