To donut or to doughnut? That is the question. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Donuts/doughnuts can trace their origin to the Dutch olykoeks–”oily cakes” back when New York was still New Amsterdam. But the widely regarded inventress of America’s favorite pastry was Elizabeth Gregory, who packed doughy treats with nuts and citrus for her son’s long voyages as a sea captain. Fast forward to the Roaring ‘20s, when the first doughnut machine turned the snack into an assembly-line sweet and affordable sensation. In the following century, these doughy delicacies have only grown more beloved as an American culinary treasure.
Omaha is no exception to the donut craze and offers three distinct approaches. (Though it’s notable to share that all three businesses spell it the short, Americanized “donut” way.) Square Donut, a less than year-old West Omaha shop, embraces a square shape and more of a light and fluffy beignet-style donut than a traditional take. Owner Elizabeth Pooley said, “They almost melt in your mouth.” Pooley also shared that Square crafts a more elegant and elevated snacking experience with artisanal donuts. “These are not sugar coma donuts.” Square Donuts are only available at the brick and mortar shop near 156th and West Maple Road.
Each day, 22 varieties of “dailies” can be purchased by the public. Top sellers include the blueberry cake donut, maple bacon, and chocolate-topped raised donut. The donut shop also offers a donut of the month. December was a kid-friendly Snowflake Donut, designed to help kids get excited about the winter season even during a pandemic. Other past favorites have been the star-studded Galaxy Donut from August, and the owner’s favorite, November’s Vanilla Coconut Cream. Besides these regulars, Square Donut does custom orders, like gender reveal donuts, themed treats for weddings or birthday parties, and even giant donut letters and numbers. This year looks to be an exciting one for the new venture as well, with donut breakfast sandwiches coming soon, a quiche donut in development for a spring debut, and potentially having designated daily flavors.
Another excellent Omaha donut can be found at Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop, which has been serving up goodness in the Joslyn Castle neighborhood since 2016. Owner Katina Talley always knew she wanted to be in food and has parlayed her food science background into owning her own bakery in her mid-20s. Talley shared that donuts are a small but substantial part of the business, adding that “Donuts have absolutely blown up in popularity during the pandemic, and we have been selling hundreds each day.” Donuts make up about 20% of her total sales, up from roughly 15% in past years.
Sweet Magnolias, often shortened to Sweet Mags, focuses on all baked, classic cake donuts, with three flavors that are always available plus fun seasonal iterations that rotate. The three all the time flavors are churro (cinnamon sugar), vanilla sprinkle, and chocolate sprinkle. It’s also noteworthy to point out that all Sweet Mags glazes are handmade from scratch, like everything else in the bake shop.
Another longtime customer favorite flavor, pistachio, is occasionally available, while the owner’s number one pick remains the chocolate vegan donut. Talley shared that other favorite donuts have been last summer’s cashew tahini (“so nutty and so good”) and orange cardamom (“a very spring flavor”). Winter customers can expect some fun seasonal goodies as well, like maple almond butter and peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallow glaze. Sweet Mags’s products can be picked up curbside at its midtown bakery or at partners like the Grove Juicery, Amateur Coffee Parlor, and Midtown Reality Coffee.
Just because donuts have long been considered a diet cheat doesn’t mean they can’t be prepared in a healthier fashion. That’s just what Holly Wiest, founder of Holly’s Healthy Holes, aims to do each day. She shared, “Donuts don’t have to be indulgent and can fit into a healthy lifestyle,” which Wiest discovered during her own bodybuilding journey. Donuts have long been her favorite food, so she asked herself, “How many ways can I make a donut healthy?”
All of her flavors have zero processed sugars or fats and no artificial flavorings. Whey protein is also used to add a punch of protein power to the sweet treats. Wiest is constantly experimenting with new flavors and ingredients, but the four original donuts are always on the menu. These include maple glazed, chocolate peanut butter, lemon chia, and double chocolate chocolate (nicknamed “dub choc” by the team). The owner also stated that nostalgic flavors sell really well, like the popular Girl Scout Cookie series, cookie dough, snickerdoodle, and more. “All are designed to embrace eating with joy and food freedom,” Wiest added. Holly’s Healthy Holes has also enjoyed working with CBD as an ingredient for its anti-inflammatory properties; a Bananas Foster with CBD was especially well-received by customers.
Fans of Holly’s Healthy Holes can look forward to new winter flavors like the aptly named Holly Berry, a chocolate-covered strawberry concoction plus a gingerbread donut. Wiest added, “We dehydrate fresh ginger in house, then candy it in natural sugar.” Besides offering free, contactless delivery four days a week in Omaha and one day a week in Lincoln, the bakery’s products can be enjoyed at Karma Koffee, Myrtle & Cypress, and Zen Coffee to name a few.
It’s easy to see that Omaha has plenty to offer in terms of donuts, from a healthy twist, to a classic cake donut, to a square beignet-style treat, the “Gateway to the West” showcases donut creativity on all fronts.