The history of the doughnut dates back over 200 years. All around the globe, these fried favourites come in many shapes and frequently take their spot on staff room tables and soccer fields. What makes a Beechwood doughnut so special? Is it the melt in your mouth softness, the sweet aroma, or the satisfaction when you taste the frosting? Imagine, for a moment, never being able to experience the feeling you get when you take the first bite. Shane Belanger and Tayler Book, Co-owners of Beechwood Doughnuts located on James Street in downtown St. Catharines wanted to make these mouth-watering treats in a way that everyone can enjoy.

Since its opening, Beechwood Doughnuts has hit the mark with their vegan doughnuts. For Book and Belanger, eating vegan is a way of life for the two and it is one that they desired to share with the Niagara Region. “As vegans we wanted to make a vegan product,” says Book. “We want to show things can be vegan and delicious too.”

“Shane was one of the original bakers at Rise Above which was the first vegan bakery in Niagara,” says Book. When Rise Above began picking up momentum in the community they started having difficulty keeping up with the demand for doughnuts, Belanger and Book saw an opportunity. “They started with doughnuts, but now they focus more as a restaurant,” says Book. “With the blessing of the owner of Rise Above we branched out and opened Beechwood Doughnuts,” explains Book.

Along with essential ingredients such as flour and sugar, these delectable treats are made without using animal products. “A lot of the ingredients are easy to switch out,” explains Book. “We use applesauce instead of eggs and we substitute soy milk for cow’s milk. We also use a vegan alternative to butter and shortening.”

Beechwood is a unique facility as patrons can view the baking and production process through large glass windows. “You can get close to the action and see everything but the storage room,” says Book. “Not too often can you see the donuts being made from scratch,” says Book. She adds that most other places will freeze, reheat and then decorate them.

A great deal of time and care goes into each batch of doughnuts made at Beechwood. “From mixer to the front rack takes two and a half to three hours,” says Book. “We start at five in the morning, earlier on Saturdays.”

With the most popular flavours of doughnuts being cookies and cream, coconut cream and a wide variety of fritters, Beechwood has something for everyone. From Peanut Butter and Jelly to Key Lime Pie, each donut is made to perfection and full of flavour. Over the past 15 months, the Beechwood team has put their heads together to come up with some original flavours. “There has been some outrageous ideas that haven’t worked out and there have been some that made the cut that didn’t do well and they won’t be back,” says Book. “Every once in a while someone will drop a list of flavours on my desk and we try them out and try to come up with creative ideas together.”

Beechwood is constantly proving that age is only a number when it comes to appreciating a high quality donut. “It is actually a big mix of people from little kids to a lot of older generation that are looking for the in-store freshness they had growing up but can’t find anymore,” explains Book. The storefront also serves a wide variety of students and businesspeople and Saturday brings in a lot of people from out of town. “It is a little bit of everyone which is nice and was what we were going for,” states Book.

After reading The China Study, a book on the health concerns linked to animal proteins such as casein, it became a priority for Andrea Stranges to adopt a vegan lifestyle. “We feel good that we indulge in an unbelievably delicious treat, like Beechwood Doughnuts without straying from our choice to live a vegan lifestyle,” explains Stranges.

For the Stranges family, eating a Beechwood vegan doughnut isn’t just about being health conscious and ethical. “My daughter is lactose intolerant and as a mom it was always heartbreaking having to say no to her when other kids her age were indulging in cakes, ice cream, and cupcakes,” says Stranges. “I felt such a relief when I discovered Beechwood because I am now able to offer her a dessert that she and all her friends could enjoy equally together.”

Book enjoys seeing the excitement on children’s faces with egg and dairy allergies or who are vegan when they finally get to try a doughnut for the first time. “People come in and they get excited because they are vegan and haven’t had a doughnut close to home,” says Book. 

When Beechwood Doughnuts opened its doors more than one year ago, Book and Belanger were overwhelmed and overjoyed with the unexpected outcome. “When we opened we would be sold out within the first hour,” says Book. “It was just Shane, his sister, and I. We would be sold out and then spend hours making more and then be sold out again in an hour,” recalls Book. Admitting that their first year was a learning curve and a lot of unexpected growth, Book is elated when she reflects upon their first year in business. “We’ve exceeded everything we could have imagined in the first five years in the first year.”

This year of growth has led the partners to envision the future of Beechwood. “Eventually we would love to expand the store so we could take orders and keep up with walk-ins which would involve upgrading our equipment. We weren’t expecting this volume, so our fryer is not as big as we would like,” says Book. With freshness and quality at the top of their list, Book and Belanger realize that expanding needs to come with the proper equipment. “We don’t want to start the day too much earlier because we want the doughnuts to be as fresh as possible throughout the day, so upgrades would be necessary,” explains Book.

Beechwood Doughnuts is right at home in the downtown core. “We love it! A lot of new entrepreneurs opened up when we did, so it is great to have that community base and be able to help out our neighbours,” explains Book. “I don’t think we will ever be able to leave downtown.”

Beechwood is surprising customers on a regular basis. “Some people think that if you are vegan all you can eat is boring lettuce and none of the good stuff. It is nice to open them up to what vegan food is and to help them understand you can make things compassionately and make it taste great,” concludes Book. For more information visit beechwooddoughnuts.com

Written By: Jill Tham