No Ordinary Doughnut
Kamal Grant took a big chance with his business plan for his small bakery in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood. The chef/owner of Sublime Doughnuts refused to serve the expected jelly, chocolate, or sugar varieties. Instead, Kamal held fast to his belief that his creative flavor combinations and artistic presentation would win over patrons.
“At first it was a struggle,” says Kamal. “People really didn’t know what to make of my creations. I’d tell my customers that I only use the best quality ingredients to create the best quality product and it would be the best doughnut they’ve ever tasted. When I saw my first return customer, I felt confident in the future.” Kamal’s doughnuts, like the Maple Bacon Cheddar, Salted Caramel & Reduced Balsamic Vinegar, Orange Dream Star, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and Fresh Strawberry N Cream, quickly caught on with Atlanta’s culinary aficionados and food writers.
A high school career day presentation by a Dunkin’ Donuts executive lit a spark in Kamal and gave him the idea of becoming a baker and owning his own business. A visit to his school from The Culinary Institute of America sealed the deal. “When I graduated high school I enlisted in the Navy and served as a Baker 3rd Class Petty Officer on the USS John Young,” Kamal says. “It was my first taste of large-scale baking and I saw how much my shipmates loved doughnuts. The Navy was good for me because it help me grow up and gave me structure.” The Navy also exposed him to different cuisines and flavor profiles from around the world, which expanded his palate and prepared him for the CIA. “If you want to be a chef you should go learn from great chefs at the world’s premier culinary college,” says Kamal. “I was able to use my GI Bill and the Navy College Fund for tuition. The admission counselors were very helpful and guided me through the veteran’s admission process.”
After graduating from the CIA with an associate degree in baking and pastry, Kamal worked as a production supervisor at the Flowers Baking Company, where he baked as many as 1,000 loaves of bread a day. But when Kamal passed a defunct doughnut shop with a “For Lease” sign in the window, he jumped at the chance to own his own shop. “I didn’t have a lot of money for advertising, so word of mouth was pretty important in the early days,” explained Kamal. “I really believed the adage ‘Make it and they will come.’ Happily, business has increased steadily since we opened,”
In 2011, an entrepreneur from Thailand approached Kamal with a proposal to open a Sublime Doughnut in Bangkok. The new store opened in February 2012 and its popularity has added a new dimension to Kamal’s business—franchising. “Opening a doughnut shop in Thailand was great and scary at the same time, but I think food is universal and we really live in a small world,” says Kamal. He’s now accepting franchise applications for review from interested parties from all over the U.S., the Middle East, and Malaysia.
Along with business opportunities came the accolades. Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin included Sublime Doughnuts on her list of “2012 Best Doughnuts in America”; Bake Magazine named Sublime Doughnuts “America’s Best Bakery of 2012”; and their “out-of-the-ordinary ring of fried dough” landed them on US News & World Report’s “America’s Best Doughnuts” list in 2013. The shop even developed a cult following with Atlanta-based Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, whose nightly “bumps” (clever messages in between commercials) gave Sublime Doughnuts a national audience.
Kamal’s personal vision, education, and drive are the basis for his business acumen—a foundation he began formulating at school. “I got so much out of my time at the CIA. You’re surrounded by like-minded people all who have a passion for food. You learn so much technique that you leave with a well-rounded education and a strong set of skills,” Kamal says. “The training and the background I received at the CIA gave me the tools to become a great chef. The lessons I learned—especially about using the best possible products and plate presentation—I still use every day. My customers always mention how beautiful the donuts look. Pastries are not just about baking, they also represent culinary art.”
Kamal’s first cookbook, Homemade Doughnuts: Techniques and Recipes for Making Sublime Doughnuts in Your Home Kitchen published by Quarry Books, was released on February 1, 2014. The company motto, “Eat One That’s Worth It,” resonates with his customers. Let’s face it; if you’re going to splurge on a doughnut, it should be delicious and sublime.