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Brothers take doughnut business from market to storefront

On Saturday mornings in Lincoln’s Railyard, the Gingery brothers prepare to sell more than 1,000 of their speciality doughnuts.

They pass lemon poppyseed, salted caramel and fresh strawberry doughnuts over the counter to eager customers.

They tuck pistachio, Boston cream pie, vanilla bean and blueberry doughnuts in a box for a family to share.

They pair a cup of Stumptown coffee with a crowd-pleasing maple-glazed longjohn, topped with a crispy bacon strip.

Welcome to a typical Saturday at The Doughnut Hole.

Soon, the brothers, Nate and Lucas, will have two more Lincoln locations to sell their one-of-a-kind doughnuts and coffee. But the former models didn’t start their business behind a counter. Instead, they sold their first sugary treats at Lincoln’s farmer’s markets.

“It’s kind of a neat test market for them in some ways because people can see what they think of their product before they invest a lot of money into it,” said Jill Gifford, the program manager at UNL’s Food Processing Center.

Gifford said while the Food Processing Center deals with helping products get manufactured, she sees a lot of them benefit from the farmers market setting as well. Typically, market-goers are in the “foodie” category and are on the lookout for unique items, she said, helping businesses like The Doughnut Hole.

Nate Gingery said selling at the farmer’s markets also gave the brothers easy access to fresh fruits and nuts that they incorporate into many of their 30-plus flavor combinations.

“We use the highest-quality ingredients we can get our hands on,” he said. “But I think it all starts with the doughnut itself.”

The Lincoln-born brothers started pursuing the perfect doughnut while they were models in New York City. They noticed the East Coast was teeming with small shops featuring a strong doughnut and coffee culture that they quickly fell in love with and wanted to bring back to their home state.

“For me, if I can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and a doughnut you can just enjoy and not think about much else,” Nate said. “We’re dealing with so much, sometimes you just want to take a couple of minutes for yourself.”

After returning to Lincoln, the Gingerys tested numerous recipes to develop a doughnut recipe that rivaled the hundreds of doughnuts they’ve tried from across the country.

The key is texture, they said. The doughnut needs to be fluffy but still chewy; delicate but not flimsy; sweet but not too sweet. It’s a balancing act that they eventually perfected and sold to farmer’s market patrons for two years.

After working during the week and baking and selling doughnuts all weekend, the brothers knew it was time to make it their full-time job.

“We needed to work smarter, not harder,” Nate said. “The only way to do that was to open up a shop.”

So, in October 2013 the brothers opened their retail shop in the Railyard’s Public Market. The location has been a “billboard” for their business because of its location in the newly developed part of Lincoln.

The Gingerys quickly settled into a routine of making doughnuts every day and staying open until they’re sold out. On Saturdays this can be as early as 10 a.m., but on weekdays the doughnuts can linger a bit longer into the afternoon.

However, Nate and Lucas said they didn’t want to get too comfortable in their routine, because their plan was always to expand the business when it gained enough traction. It’s both an exciting and an terrifying next move for the brothers who aren’t yet 30 years old.

“A lot of people are just scared of the risk involved with opening more locations because with that it entails signing another lease, taking out a loan and owing more money, but in some cases it’s a necessity to make money and to grow,” Nate said. “I think it’s one of those things that’s a necessary risk for us.”

It’s a risk that comes with new challenges that the brothers are looking forward to taking on. Opening a downtown location this fall at 13th and O streets, followed by a to-be-determined location in south Lincoln, will mean more hiring, marketing and business development as they expand their reach.

They also plan to emphasize their coffee offerings at the new locations.

“The coffee is a huge part of it,” Nate said. “We are the first ones to use Stumptown (coffee) in Nebraska.”

Stumptown is a Portland-based roaster that sells direct trade, Arabica coffee. The Gingerys chose to feature its coffee because they appreciate the attention Stumptown pays to the quality of its coffee and the methods of acquiring and roasting the beans.

It’s similar to the attention Nate and Lucas put into their signature doughnuts each day, choosing the perfect ingredients to make a sweet, fluffy bite for each customer.

The details matter, they said, and they’ll continue to matter as the brothers expand their business well beyond the farmer’s market.

Nate said they’re planning to design each location a little differently so that customers get a slightly different experience at each shop.

“Each one will feel a little different even though we’re serving the same products,” said Nate, who hopes the customers will appreciate the attention to detail.

“Life is about the small things.”