Founder Paul Hurley is taking a Shoreditch-approved franchise to the Middle East, home to the world’s most discerning consumers of luxury brands
In Dum Dum Donutterie’s flagship Shoreditch branch, plump doughnuts prettily on a counter in shades of blush pink and lime green or boldly naked and topped with cream, tempting East End hipsters and the odd social-media star or celebrity (Peter Andre and beauty volgger Zoella are fans). But by closing time, the counters have been emptied by customers, ready to be restocked with more goodies the following morning.
Dum Dum Donutterie is the brainchild of Paul Hurley: baker, entrepreneur and lover of doughnuts. Having started his career aged 16 working at Dunkin’ Donuts, Hurley worked his way up and got to know the business from many different angles, from production and sales to operations and planning. He also developed a penchant for doughnuts, whether glazed, filled or modestly dusted with sugar. “Nobody knows more about doughnuts than me,” he says.
When Hurley broke away from the US master franchise in the 1990s, he wasn’t ready to leave the doughnut world behind him. After travelling around France and Italy, working in patisseries and learning how to create baked delicacies with finesse, he returned to Britain with a dream of creating the best doughnut in the world. Teaming up with a friend from his Dunkin’ Donuts days, Hurley had a few false starts but eventually the duo perfected a baked doughnut recipe that was lower in fat than your typical American version and used superior base ingredients. “I even know exactly which farm my flour is grown in,” he says. Aesthetics were of equal importance and Hurley drew on his patisserie training in France to make sure the finished product looked the part too.
The duo secured a patent for the method and started supplying unbranded doughnuts to top retailers. But a personal tragedy – the death of both his mother and business partner within the span of five months – prompted Hurley to reassess his model. “It was just me, so I decided to do things exactly how I wanted and tuned out any outside opinions to prevent my concept from getting watered down,” he says. “Then if it didn’t work out, I only had myself to blame.”
So in 2013, Hurley launched Dum Dum Donutterie and opened its flagship outlet in Boxpark, Shoreditch. The choice of location was no accident. Hurley knew that if he couldn’t win over the ultra-savvy customers in the area, he’d have to rethink his approach. “It was almost a challenge for me: they’re such a discerning, cool crowd,” he says. “People in Shoreditch are very welcoming of honest, authentic products. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes.”
Hurley’s commitment to his craft and adoption of artisanal methods won them over: soon people were buzzing about this hot new shop selling unusual flavours of doughnuts that were too pretty not to post on Instagram. Hurley only closed the shop when he had sold out completely, which he did quite easily.
Celebrities and social-media influencers helped create a buzz online without any prompting from the company. In fact, the franchisor admits he didn’t know much about social media in the early days. “I realised that if they can be bothered to post about us I should at least try to become more au fait with social media,” he says. “I took a ‘build it and they will come’ approach, which thankfully paid off.”
The positive word of mouth continued to build and within months the brand was in Harrods. Soon, enquiries about franchising opportunities started to pour in from all around the globe. And, thanks to his foray into franchising earlier in his career, Hurley knew it was the best model to help him to introduce his doughnuts to the world. “With franchising, you’ve got people who are invested in helping you grow, rather than a manager who will never care about your business as much as you do,” he says. “There’s a sense that we’re all in it together and I like that.”
Viewing Dubai as the gateway to the Middle East, Hurley chose the city to be Dum Dum Donutterie’s first international outpost, with a second franchise outlet in Qatar following soon after. Hurley recognises that part of the franchise’s overseas appeal lies in its Britishness – particularly its associations with London and Harrods. “People tend to look to London to see what the next trend might be and the fact that we’re the only doughnut brand in Harrods has cachet abroad,” he says. “Brand Britain is very strong in places like Asia and the Middle East.”
And while the franchisor ensures that the public gets a consistent experience whether they’re in London or Qatar, he’s also keen to work with his chefs on the ground to ensure the menus are given a local twist. “I don’t pretend to know everything, so although I keep strict control over the brand, I love hearing ideas,” he says. A joint collaboration that saw Hurley fly to Dubai to work with his bakers has produced localised doughnuts that incorporate flavours like rose, cardamom, cinnamon and pistachio. “I love being in the kitchen and working on new ideas,” he enthuses.
Hurley is equally committed to staying innovative at home. The magic happens in his patisserie in Chelmsford, where the baker has invented popular flavours like creme brulee, a cronut-like pastry – which he claims he was popularising long before Dominique Ansel’s croissant-doughnut craze – and the crone, a doughnut shaped like an ice-cream cone. “We just like playing and coming up with things that look nice,” he explains.
And that sense of play is what led Hurley’s team to invent the world’s most expensive doughnut for an event on behalf of Just Eat, the food-delivery startup. “We figured we’d forget about the cost and just go for it because we might be able to apply whatever we developed to our regular line,” he says. The invention, which contained top-notch ingredients like Iranian saffron and an edible gold-leaf decoration, was a hit and Hurley was pleased but perhaps slightly bemused when he discovered reviews from Japanese tourists who had travelled especially to London to taste it.
But there has been one side effect of all the tastings and openings. As he’s grown Dum Dum, Hurley has also developed a slight tum tum. “Admittedly I’ve put on a bit of weight since I started the business but you wouldn’t want to buy a doughnut from a skinny guy, would you?” Is he concerned about the health impact of his creations, especially with mounting concerns about obesity in the UK? “We treat people like adults and are transparent about our ingredients so people can make an informed decision – we’re not making salads here,” he says. “And your body needs a bit of sugar and fat: it’s about balance.”
Hurley will certainly need the fortification as he embarks on an even greater international push. Not only is the franchisor exploring options in other parts of the Middle East but he’s also got his eye on making inroads in Europe, Asia and the US so that he eventually has an outlet in every international city. And with the pound still sitting low due to the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Brexit vote, international interest has ramped up even more. “There’s never been a better time for people living abroad to buy a British franchise with an international presence,” he says.