This column is part of a series called “Restaurant Voices,” which features firsthand experiences and lessons from people working within the restaurant industry. Each column in the series describes a specific turning point or moment for restaurateurs that changed or defined their careers. This column is by Lori Kettelle, owner of PVDonuts.

There’s been a line down the block since we opened PVDonuts. But every night I wonder if anyone will show up tomorrow.

Putting our growth in perspective: the first weekend of April last year, we made a total of 48 donuts. By March this year, we were pumping out 1600 a day.

As a business owner, I think it’s important to never be content and always strive for more, so a mixture of scared and happy is a great place to be in, believe it or not.

Even with all that success — maybe because of it — I still have doubts. People love donuts. But will they keep showing up? Maybe that’s the pattern in this business: wake up, sell out, worry that it’s all a fluke. Believe it or not, working in a space between scared and happy is where I thrive.

Putting our growth in perspective: the first weekend of April last year, we made a total of 48 donuts. By March this year, we were pumping out 1600 a day.

I never planned to make a living in donuts. Before opening PVDonuts I was comfortable. Sure, I was working four jobs, but somehow I felt secure. For some reason, whenever my boyfriend (now husband), Paul, and I would go out of state or on vacation, the first thing that we would seek out is a good, local donut shop. When we’d get back to Providence, RI, I’d crave a donut but nothing was around.

The light came on one night sitting around a campfire with some friends, they said you should open up a donut shop. Paul blurted out, “PVDonuts.”

That’s it, I thought.

I didn’t go apply for a business loan or anything. I’d make donuts once a week, bring them to the gym or to work, and people liked them. I’d post photos on Instagram, and started gaining some traction.

But then Paul and I got engaged. I knew one thing, this wedding was happening – but I wasn’t sure about this business. So I took some time off from the donuts.

Once we got married, Paul kept pushing me. I don’t react well to that. It took me awhile to get into the flow of things. But I got back on Instagram, and that’s when it started to take off. I started to look around for kitchens. Starting in April 2016 we cooked in a kitchen incubator called Hope & Main. I planned on staying there for about a year with a wholesale business plan, meaning I’d cook out of there and sell my donuts to local coffee shops.

My measurement for the popularity of donuts in town was my Instagram. That’s not exactly a sound strategy. So, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on this idea.

That first weekend we made about 48 donuts and sold out. We needed to up our numbers to meet the demand, but Hope & Main’s frier could only fry 9 donuts at a time. I was working full time at the Whole Foods bakery, and after work on Thursday, I’d go in in and make dough. Friday I would leave work, take a nap, and go in at 11:00 and work till 5 AM. My husband would go run deliveries across the state on Saturday and I would get changed and head to my job at Whole Foods. This lasted for a month.

But then Paul and I got engaged. I knew one thing, this wedding was happening – but I wasn’t sure about this business. So I took some time off from the donuts.

By the end of April, I was exhausted and drained. One Saturday I had to bite the bullet and call out of work. I got home and was about to fall asleep after a long night of producing about 300 donuts with this 9-at-a-time fry game and my husband came running through the door.

He yelled, “We sold out in 40 minutes!” And I just started crying. I was so excited that we are selling out but…crap. We worked so hard to get to this point, but I didn’t know what to do next. I was scared.

I quit my job. I realized that I had no other choice. The full-time job had been my crutch. I kept telling myself, “At least, I have a full-time job.” But when I quit I was like, “Shit, this needs to work.” It became real.

I used to work at this place called Sin Bakery in Providence. My old manager reached out to me and offered to share her retail space with me. I knew retail had a higher profit margin, and I could make and sell more donuts, but with a catch.

There were really hard times, and times when I cried in the shower. I see that line and I know that I should be excited but my mind goes directly to, “Do I have enough donuts for all of these people, crap.”

I took a month off from selling to begin hiring and put together a strategy. We bought some self-sustained hoods and two little friers, so now we could fry about 20 donuts at a time. We opened Memorial Day Weekend 2016 and produced about 500 donuts a day because we had to stop when the Sin team came in. We had to set a limit of four donuts a person and would sell out within two hours. I was getting peppered with questions like, ”Why don’t you make more donuts? Why don’t you just hire more people?”

I didn’t plan for the growth. And the doubts were always there. What do you do next? Do I jump even more into this thing?

We jumped. Paul found a place on Craigslist and we bought it in a week. We had no money. So we used what was left of our wedding money and got new credit cards and maxed them out. We figured one day we’d pay them off.

We spent a month and a half renovating and opened in September. That first month we made about 20,000 donuts and from then it has been explosive. Today we still struggle meeting demands. This past Easter, we made 2,400 on Saturday. And, that was with us all coming in at midnight, my husband coming in to help dip donuts, plus I recruited two more people to come in and help.

There has not been a day since we have been open that we have not seen a line, and it’s kind of like, “Wow, people still like us?”

My weekend team from Hope & Main stayed with me through the entire thing and friends from past jobs joined the team. We have ridden these waves of struggles and success, together. It’s an honor to watch them grow, but it is also really scary. The doubt is still there. I keep thinking, “You really want to quit your job and work for me?” It’s not just my business, it’s everybody’s.

There were really hard times, and times when I cried in the shower. I see that line and I know that I should be excited but my mind goes directly to, “Do I have enough donuts for all of these people, crap.”

There has not been a day since we have been open that we have not seen a line, and it’s kind of like, “Wow, people still like us?”

When our customers look through the window of PVDonuts, they see donuts flying off the shelves. They see success. From the inside, I feel that success, but also fear. I’m thankful for the lines down the block, the trust of our staff, and hope I can keep them coming back.

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Lori studied pastry at Johnson and Wales University while working multiple jobs. She opened PVDonuts a year ago, keeping Providence fed every morning.
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