FOOD- THE DISH- Carpe Donut: Rolling wagon seizes the day
Matt Rohdie, along with his wife, Jen Downey, and their children Finn, Lil, and Georgia, launched their mobile donut truck business, Carpe Donut, last August.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
On a cold, rainy day last week we saw a festive-looking red trailer parked in front of the Lucky Seven on Market Street. As we got closer, we could smell something familiarly warm and sweet, but not sugary sweet; it was more subtle, like an apple pie baking at a neighbor's house. But there was still the suggestion of a savory reward. Our mouths began to water. Childhood memories began to surface. We felt dizzy, even momentarily happy. What the hell was happening?
"I wanted to make and offer to the public one extremely well-made food," explains Matt Rohdie, who owns the small trailer he calls Gypsy.
And that well made food turns out to be a hot fresh donut.
"The culinary equivalent of crack cocaine," adds Rohdie, who, along with his wife, Jen Downey, and their children Finn, Lil, and Georgia, launched their mobile donut truck business, Carpe Donut, last August.
Now before you haul your kids in off the street and call the cops, know that this is not your parents' donut. We're all into saving the planet and eating organic now, and Rohdie's round wonders are doing their part. Concocted from locally squeezed apple cider, organic flower, eggs, and spices in soy oil that's converted into biofuel after the frying is done, Carpe Donuts are as environmentally friendly as they are tasty.
What's more, for Rohdie and his wife, it's a strategy for enriching the family life.
"Our kids are home-schooled, and we wanted to find a way to make a living while spending time together doing interesting things with our kids," he says, pointing out that going mobile allows them to travel. They've played the Albemarle County and Augusta County fairs, three shows at the Pavilion and First Night Virginia, and are applying for a spot at the FloydFest music festival.
"A friend of mine calls us 'Little House on the Trailer,'" he laughs.
Rohdie says they recently acquired a mobile operator's license. That means that as long as they park legally, or get permission from a property owner, they can park Gypsy just about anywhere. The Lucky Seven-condoned gig was a "trial balloon," but he says they are exploring other locations on the Downtown Mall as well as in the Barracks Road Shopping Center. They also have a website (carpedonut.argon.org) where people will eventually be able to find out where they are at any given time.
"The essence of our business model is to be mobile, to go where donut lovers are," says Rohdie, who was a social worker for years before getting into the catering business. "We always cook and serve on site."
Unlike store-bought or chain store donuts (and no, we haven't forgotten about Spudnuts, a fabulous local donut option, but let's give Carpe Donut a chance to shine), Carpe Donuts have a shelf-life of about a day, Rohdie says.
"But that melds with the idea of bringing donuts to the people," he says. "Ideally, there's a five-minute window we like to hit, from the time they're cooked until the time they're eaten."
While Rohdie appears to have quite a bit of business savvy, he seems to have no illusions about the food service business.
"I've always been a foodie, and I've watched a lot of people go broke in the restaurant business," he says. "That's why I wanted to create one food that people would immediately respond to. And you can't underestimate the value of the hot, freshly made donut... not too many other foods are as magical."
Great Scott! What that popping sound?
In a roundabout way, we can thank Hurricane Katrina for bringing Great Scott's Gourmet Popcorn to Ivy Road, right behind Cary's Camera. Owner Scott Hutchinson, 30, and his wife (she grew up in Charlottesville) were living in Louisiana when the terrible hurricane hit, which sent them packing for Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. There, Hutchinson stumbled on a place called Julie's Gourmet Popcorn. Intrigued, he convinced the owner to teach him her secrets.
"It seemed like a fun thing I could do on my own," says Hutchinson, who was a restaurant manger for years. "When we moved to Charlottesville, I decided to go for it."
The small popcornery opened on February 2.
Hutchinson says he offers a variety of popcorn, including carmel corn, cornfetti (with rainbow colors), and Texas Tornado, his most popular, flavored with ranch, jalapeño, and cheddar.
He also offers big tins and gift boxes, as well as 10 gallons of the stuff for $25.
"We're real flexible with how people want to package it," Hutchinson says.
So far, it appears that business hasn't exactly been hoppin' since he started poppin.' But he hopes that will change once he starts advertising and word-of-mouth kicks in.
"We've had a slow start, but there's been a really good reception," he says.