Story and Photos by Dakota Mackey
Most people can remember a time, or hopefully many times, they sank their teeth into a chewy, soft and sweet doughnut. The glaze melts between their fingers and almost begs to be licked off.
Those who haven’t had this experience, or want it again are in luck. Bellingham has three family-owned doughnut shops: Lafeen’s, Johnny’s and Rocket Donuts.
I am by no means a doughnut expert—more of a self-proclaimed food connoisseur and doughnut enthusiast—but I set out this quarter to meet the families behind the production of these tasty treats and set up the ultimate battle royale of Bellingham doughnuts. In the end, I focused on Johnny’s Donuts. During my interview at Johnny’s Donuts, co-owner John Koons mentioned he didn’t think Bellingham had the perfect doughnut.
For this reason, I decided I needed to see what he was talking about and check out his competition.
Karin and John Koons opened their doughnut shop, Johnny’s Donuts, August 2011 at 2201 Cornwall Ave.
“[John] has a great reputation as a doughnut maker,” Karin said. “He was famous in Alaska for them.”
John began frying doughnuts in the 1960s at Bellingham’s Albertsons grocery store. He then moved on to work at several other bakeries around Bellingham through the 1980s and then left the doughnut business to work at a fish packing company in Alaska. By then, he had already met his wife Karin and they moved back to Bellingham.
With a passion for doughnuts, the Koons decided to look for a space to open their own doughnut shop. They renovated a vacant space by Bellingham High School and kept the business simple. The understated red building holds the ultimate case of gluttony.
“It is just like in the 1960s, just doughnuts and drip coffee,” John said.
John goes into the shop at 12:30 every morning and makes the doughnuts until 9 or 10 a.m. By then, Karin has already come into the shop and started selling the doughnuts to customers with a smile. Karin’s cheery disposition and ability to connect with her customers makes eating doughnuts an even more enjoyable experience.
“Karin is so likeable,” John said. “She cares and it shows.”
The Koons pride themselves on not only creating the perfect doughnut, but also making an impact on the community.
“Our goal is to give the people of Bellingham a little joy,” Karin said. “It is hard to leave the shop without a smile.”
By using quality ingredients and working day and night, the Koons are able to effectively make tasty and inexpensive doughnuts.
“We don’t have to pay anyone for labor because we do it ourselves,” John said. “As long as we are making a decent living, we are able to keep the prices low.”
While Karin enjoys the Saturday special, the apple crumb cake doughnut, John has always had a soft spot for the maple bar.
Located near Whatcom Falls Park, at 1446 Electric Avenue, Lafeen’s Donuts and Ice Cream Shop has served their handmade doughnuts for decades. Manager Shawn Samuth works the counter while his brother, the owner of the shop, Chan Bun Samuth, makes the doughnuts in the back of the store.
The successful family business has a long counter with an ice cream station on one end and a glass case of doughnuts on the other end. There are big tables for people to sit at who wish to dine-in. The walls are covered with children’s drawings from doughnut patrons and also thank you letters from people in the community who received donations from Lafeen’s.
“The goal is to make a living, but I also get to meet lots of different people, which I like,” Shawn said.
Chan Bun Samuth begins making the doughnuts daily at 5 p.m. until about midnight.
Rocket Donuts, which opened at 306 W. Holly Street, serves handmade doughnuts with the motto, “Donuts just ‘aint serious business.’” Owner Jim Swift prides himself on bringing Bellingham community members freshly made doughnuts with a sci-fi theme. Out of the three shops, Rocket Donuts has, by far, the flashiest interior. The ‘50s and ‘60s themed doughnut shop has red walls with rockets placed around the store. It has wall-to-wall galactic decorations and an illuminated, shiny case of doughnuts sitting front and center at the shop.
Johnny’s Donuts co-owner Karin’s favorite doughnut is the apple crumb cake doughnut. I have always preferred cake doughnuts over yeast doughnuts, but this is a twist on the usual plain cake doughnut. It is lightly sweet with a hint of apple flavor and brown sugar. The glaze on top takes the fluffy doughnut to another level. I’ve had dry cake doughnuts before, but this was just the opposite. It melted in my mouth with every bite and was somehow so light and not overly sweet. I understand why this is Karin’s favorite. It is a Saturday morning special, and it is very special to say the least.
Lafeen’s Donuts manager Shawn Samuth’s favorite doughnut is the raspberry bearclaw. This yeast-raised doughnut is light and airy, creating a soft texture. An abundance of raspberry filling is nestled into the large doughnut’s center. If I could change one thing about it I would ask for less filling. It was stunningly sweet and delicious, but overpowering in abundance.
Rocket Donuts owner Jim Swift’s favorite doughnut is the raspberry bismarck. Jim Swift always gets this doughnut when he eats at the shop. The pillowy yeast-raised doughnut is light and incredibly soft in texture. It is filled with ruby-colored gel and topped with a hefty portion of powdered sugar. The gooey center made for a lot of finger lickin’ glory. And if you are trying to be sneaky and hide your indulgence, then good luck: You will surely have a lap full of powdered sugar. The actual texture and consistency of the doughnut was quite pleasing, but the abundance of powdered sugar and raspberry filling made it too sweet for my taste. If you have a sweet tooth like Jim, this may be the doughnut for you.
Johnny’s Donuts: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Johnnys-Donuts-of-Bellingham-Wa/253453814676704
Lafeen’s Donuts: https://www.facebook.com/LafeensFamilyPrideDonuts
Rocket Donuts: http://www.rocketdonuts.com/