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Ottawa's Maverick's Donuts eying further expansion after pandemic

Co-owner Gen Vivian says she's never afraid to try something new.

Maverick's Donuts is still working to making in-roads in the highly competitive industry that is Canadian donuts.

When they initially launched Maverick's Donuts in 2016, co-owners Geoff and Gen Vivian's selling feature was that customers could 'dip-and-decorate' their own donuts.

It was a concept the married couple (and serious entrepreneurs, who previously overtook Lapointe's Fish Markets and currently own Morning Owl Coffee) had first seen while on vacation in Florida. Given the appetite for donuts back home, the couple thought the dip-and-decorate model would be a slam-dunk in Ottawa.

They were wrong.

“People loved the donuts, but they didn't have the time to dip and decorate,” Genevieve , the V-P for marketing, says. “People in Florida are retired and have the time to play with their donuts. Customers here weren't interested. They don't have the time to spend five minutes decorating a donut.”

So they ditched the dip-and-decorate concept, retooled their menu of gourmet donuts made without yeast and focusing on premium and seasonal flavours. They also concentrated brand awareness and franchise opportunities across the capital region, resulting in the opening of new franchises in Stittsville, Kanata, Carleton Place, Barrhaven and Orléans.

“It took a couple years for Maverick's to find its feet,” Vivian, 34, admits. “It took that long to work out the kinks. But we called it Maverick's for a reason. We wanted to do something different. Sometimes you don't know what that is until you do it. Once the business model evolved organically, business took off.”

Business was building nicely by 2020, just as the COVID pandemic threw a wrench in the works. As if finding staff willing to do physically demanding work beginning before dawn wasn't hard enough, the pandemic has made it virtually impossible.

“It was frustrating because the demand for our products was growing fast,” Vivian says. “We pivoted like everyone else, but still struggled with staffing issues. We couldn't compete with the government's emergency plans that paid people to stay home.”

The donut game is a high-stakes one in Canada. Our country boasts the largest per-capita market for donuts in the world. Canadians spend $6.6-billion on deep-fried donuts and pastries annually. Nothing brings a Canuck to his or her knees like a box of fresh donuts. The dominant player, Tim Horton's, sells an estimated 3-million donuts a day at one of its 4,300 locations across Canada. There are literally generations of donut-craving Canadians who have only eaten donuts made by Horton's.

The Vivians knew the only way they could compete and carve out a share of the donut market was to try to make a better donut.

Horton's recipe calls for deep-fried yeasted dough, resulting in a light, bread-like pastry with lots of rise. Maverick's doesn't use yeast in its batter, creating a heavier, richer, cake-like donut. They've also tried different flavours, with seasonal spices and dessert-inspired icings. Gen says their most popular flavour is lemon ricotta.

Once the pandemic lockdowns clear, Vivian hopes to get back and grow business with more franchises beyond the capital region and even south of the border.

In the meantime, Vivian claims that Maverick's is probably the happiest entrepreneurial experience she's had.

“It's a lot of fun. Customers are in a good mood and I get to work with my husband. We work well together. I know it's a cliche, but he completes me,” she says before adding, “You get to go home smelling sweet like dessert. It's nicer than when we went home from Lapointe's smelling like fish.”

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