Just a hop and a skip away from Chestnut Hill, Union Square Donuts has opened up a new location on Harvard Street in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Josh Danoff founded Union Square Donuts four years ago with a small team including two of his siblings, a trained pastry chef, and a family friend. However, Union Square Donuts was not Danoff’s first business. Originally from Amherst, Massachusetts, Danoff started his own stone masonry business right after college. After a number of years of dry stack masonry, Danoff sold the business and moved to Los Angeles to teach special education.
He eventually moved back to the East Coast, and began thinking about his next career move. Right around the time he moved from LA, the food truck industry was beginning to take off. Danoff felt inspired to take a little bit of the west coast back east with him, and began selling Kombucha on tap in local farmers markets with his brother. Clearly a craftsman, Danoff fastened a cold storage unit to a bike cruiser, and was in business. The brothers then moved on to selling popsicles, until one day when Danoff received an email from his younger brother saying, “We should do donuts.”
Thus, Union Square Donuts was born. The store quickly grew from a small counter in front of a commercial oven to an actual store in Somerville, and has since expanded to its new location in Brookline. When prompted about his entrepreneurial journey, Danoff replied saying, “You have to be naive to a certain extent. If I had known everything that was going to happen, you know, you might not do it. You have to adapt, and learn, and just do what needs to be done.”
Union Square Donuts seems to rest on the precipice of the classic and the contemporary. “Donuts are timeless,” Danoff remarks. “Food has that sense memory, like music does. Even if you’ve never had our donuts before, you walk in and you smell that familiar smell and it could remind you of the first time you had a donut.”
Danoff is right. There is nothing new about fried dough. However, the flavors Union Square Donuts creates are delicious, inventive and on par with food trends of the time. They even opted for the more modern spelling of “donut” as opposed to the traditional “doughnut” spelling, hinting at their focus towards modern cuisine.
The menu has those classic flavors like a belgian dark chocolate glazed, vanilla bean, or cinnamon sugar, and also boasts inventive and seasonal flavors such as margarita, maple bacon (my personal favorite), and cranberry spice. In fact, the latter flavor incorporates cider from Downeast Cider, a local brewery, while the maple bacon uses maple syrup from a Mom and Pop shop in Vermont. They are able to use their platform as a small business to create a mutualistic community of other local businesses.
Flavor ideas come from a plethora of sources. Some are customer recommendations and some are adaptations of current food trends. Others are seasonal flavors, while some come from a paper list posted in the store’s kitchen that employees contribute to. When asked about his favorite flavor, Danoff declared the plain sugar glazed donut as the winner. “When I was doing stonework,” he explains, “you can’t just hide a stone. You see them all. I think about donuts in the same way, that it all starts with the dough. If your most plain donut is not the best, then you’re doing something wrong.”
Union Square Donuts, it would seem, is doing it right.