Seize the Donut!

A Charlottesville couple’s organic twist on the crisp yet soft indulgence

The term “organic donuts” may sound oxymoronic, but Charlottesville’s Matt Rohdie and Jen Downey, husband-and-wife proprietors of Carpe Donut, have reinvigorated the homely holed hunk of fried dough. They’ve been selling their sweet morning treat out of a cherry-red cart, with its black highlights and hand-painted sign, for three years—and gaining a growing number of customers.

Improving the basic donut is not easy. Rohdie says that he experimented for more than a year before finding the right recipe. He uses organic flour, eggs and cider—lightly spiced with nutmeg, clove and ginger—for the dough, then organic soy oil for light frying. Then comes a final dusting of cinnamon and sugar. The result is what Rohdie calls “the single-malt scotch of donuts”—an odd analogy, but who doesn’t admire the ambition?

The team is now branching out into retail sales—packaging and selling frozen donuts. Because the couple uses soy oil for frying, the donuts don’t stay fresh for more than a day. But Rohdie says that if frozen soon after cooking, the donuts retain their taste. A few minutes on the oven rack and—voilà!—a crisp yet soft indulgence. Rohdie and Downey, who handles marketing design, already supply their product (hot and frozen) to local stores Feast and the Blue Ridge Country Store, along with Whole Foods stores in Charlottesville and Richmond.

The couple weren’t born donut innovators. Downey sold Tofutti and was an electrician for six years in New York City, then started a boutique lamp business. She also writes in her spare time. Rohdie was a restaurant manager and a social worker, and did a stint in the Coast Guard. He also dabbled in cooking, catering and patenting inventions. With Carpe Donut, he’s been able to achieve his goal of incorporating the entire family into a venture; daughters Lil and Georgia accompany him on ingredient shopping runs, and Downey’s son Finn helps with vending.

Street and festival vending are only part of the business, though. Rhodie has been pleasantly surprised to get wedding and event gigs, where, for a flat fee, he serves seltzer, shaved ices flavored with homemade syrups (or, in the cold months, thick, Italian hot chocolate and hot spiced organic cider)—and all the donuts the crowd can eat. Seize the donut! CarpeDonut.argon.org

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