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Jo Joe's Doughnuts: the ingredients for success

Downtown Bellingham doughnut shop puts new spin on classic treat

Jo Joe's Doughnuts located in downtown Bellingham features an ever changing menu of tempting recipes. From blueberry with lemon zest glaze to a caramel macchiato doughnut, these treats were handmade with dietary restrictions in mind. // Illustration by Alfie Short

With an ever-changing menu and a commitment to the community it feeds, Jo Joe's Doughnuts in downtown Bellingham put itself on the map after opening less than two months ago. 

A dozen doughnuts cost roughly $40, and yet a line forms before they open at 7 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 

Corey Smith, a sales representative at Gensco, an HVAC supply distributor, picked up his order for three dozen doughnuts and four cinnamon rolls on his way to a meeting on Friday morning, Feb. 4. Smith said the cost is not a turn away for him.

"It's well worth it for local, quality products," Smith said, adding that the doughnuts received a standing ovation at his 33-person meeting that day in Mount Vernon.

Jo Joes Donuts BODY 1
Co-owner of Jo Joe's Doughnuts, Joseph Letourneau, opens a freshly packed box of gourmet desserts at his office on Commercial Street in downtown Bellingham, Wash., on Friday Feb. 4, 2022. The unique Jo Joe's twist on the classic treat includes a low-sugar, vegan base, topped and filled with imaginative and locally sourced ingredients. // Photo by Madisun Tobisch

The origin story of these one-of-a-kind treats began on a whim, co-owner Joseph Letourneau said, who was classically trained in the art of French cuisine.

"I just played and created this thing, and all of a sudden, like holy cow, I'd never made one before in my life," Letourneau said. 

He had plenty of experience making French bread, which is apparent today, as Jo Joe's Doughnuts feature the same thick, bready, low-sugar and vegan base.

Another aspect of French cuisine that has crossed over into Jo Joe's is the concept of flavor balance or not overpowering a food with too much of one component. Their unique dough creates doughnuts that are larger, more firm, and are filled and topped with unique flavors easier than a traditional sweet-bread doughnut.

"The doughnut is the canvas," Letourneau said. "It's simply a canvas to host everything else that we do."

Dietary restrictions play a key role in Jo Joe's mission; Letourneau has a daughter with autism, and his desserts are specifically made with sensitivities to colored dyes, gluten and dairy in mind. 

"That's why I think I love doing it so much is we're able to give treats to the people who probably have not had them," Letourneau said.

Much of the business's commercial success, Letourneau attributes to co-owner and retail specialist JoAnne Dutton, who continues to work at the Bellingham Haggen in addition to serving doughnuts every morning since they opened on Dec. 22. 

The business recognizes that not everything was easy, they are still awaiting their official grand opening celebration, and supply chain issues from the pandemic made getting specific ingredients difficult for some time.

Guy Occhiogrosso, CEO and president of Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce said that over his 15 years serving the community, he has learned that no two businesses are exactly the same. Each business has its own unique problems and solutions, primarily in the last several years where staffing remains a major concern for employers that rely on the face-to-face business model. 

"If your doors are still open at this point and you're serving in consumers, you've had to pivot," Occhiogrosso said. 

Jo Joe's, like many other businesses in the food industry, offers a virtual order option to limit face-to-face contact inside the shop. They also hired a second chef to help meet the demand for nearly 1000 doughnuts on a busy day. 

Smith utilized the order ahead feature and was able to carry out his pre-boxed order just minutes after Jo Joe's opened.

Jo Joes Donuts BODY 2
The key lime and the bubblegum doughnuts from the Friday menu at Jo Joe's Doughnuts in Bellingham, Wash., on Friday Feb. 4, 2022. The different flavors for each handmade doughnut are why co-owner and baker Joseph Letourneau described them as "gourmet desserts." // Photo by Madisun Tobisch.

As Jo Joe's finds its footing in the community, Letourneau said they plan to ramp up their efforts on giving back. They plan to begin featuring a charity of the month, that will get a portion of the earnings made on one select doughnut each day. 

Letourneau said they are excited to branch out to weddings and offer opportunities to support local schools as well. On the occasion that there are doughnuts left over at the end of the day, the business hands them out to people on the street experiencing houselessness, senior centers or firehouses. 

"We want to make sure that if we do have leftovers, we're doing something good with them," he said. 

As far as the price point, Letourneau said the price is made to be as fair as possible for everything that goes into the daily process of hand-making batches of doughnuts 20 at a time.

"When you see what you get, now that's a heck of a deal because that's a dessert," he said. “Go to anywhere and get dessert for $3.30; you can't do it."

Madisun Tobisch

Madisun Tobisch (she/her) is a third-year news/editorial major who has worked for The Front in some capacity since winter 2022. After all this time, her love of local news and celebrating the voices of her community keep her coming back for more. As returning managing editor this quarter, she hopes to further The Front's mission of keeping readers, both new and returning, informed and engaged. While not in the newsroom, Madisun can be found barista-ing, watching movies or trying to be creative.

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