By Rebecca Gatto
“I dream donuts. I eat donuts. I sleep donuts,” says Jenn Novak as she deftly dips a golden rings of friend dough into one of her handmade toppings, then slings it effortlessly into a pastry case. The treats barely land before one of her busy employees pulls it out again for a waiting customer.
It’s Saturday morning at Cider Belly Donuts in Albany, NY, and the day is going to get much, much busier. But Jenn, who co-owns the business with her brother, Andy Novak (unavailable for this story because he was out—naturally—delivering donuts), is prepared.
Both Novaks left the corporate grind eight years ago to start selling donuts in New Hampshire. Four and a half years ago, they opened their Capital Region location at 25 North Pearl Street, and it’s been a smash success. In fact, the shop sells out of donuts nearly every day.
Donuts at Cider Belly in Albany, NY. Photo: Rebecca Gatto
VEGAN DONUT PARADISE
Not long after opening, Jenn says they began experimenting with vegan donut flavors after a customer inquired. At first, there were just a couple of plant-based flavors because Cider Belly is strict about its ingredients, while many vegan alternatives, like imitation butter, are loaded with oils and chemical flavorings.
“I have an issue with loading people up with a bunch of garbage,” Jenn said. “Yeah, I deal in sugar. But in the same respect, it’s the least amount of sugar we can offer people. It’s not processed sugar.”
Jenn Novak pours donut mix into the hopper of the shop’s donut robot, which spits out a fresh
dozen every six minutes. Then, it’s time to decorate. Photo: Rebecca Gatto
Cider Belly also sources as many ingredients as possible from local producers and selects organic options whenever they can. But getting the consistency just right without the help of all those chemicals was no small task.
Six months after opening the Albany shop, they launched their vegan donuts. Today, Novak says she can make almost any flavor into a vegan treat. As a result, the vegan side of the business is expanding, especially through wholesale customers. Local cafes, Novak said, are often surprised to discover just how many of their patrons follow a plant-based diet.
Donut illustrations painted by employee Marina Cannone. Photo: Rebecca Gatto
The Novaks’ willingness to customize any donut, vegan or otherwise, extends to their wedding business. They provide the desserts for about 350 weddings every year, some with some pretty exotic flavors.
The weirdest? “Probably Red Bull,” Novak says. “We did a whole wedding of cereal donuts once. It was a really fun wedding.” On other occasions, the shop has included special beverages that have meaning for couples, like wine or beer from the vineyard or brewery where they got engaged.
Cider, lemon, mint Oreo and buttered popcorn vegan donuts. Photo: Rebecca Gatto
Novak said the great thing about donuts is that they double as a favor, as long as paper bags are provided. This also reduces waste because guests aren’t taking home a plastic keepsake, like a tube of bubbles. (Plus, you can’t eat bubbles to chase away your hangover. Only donuts can do that.)
There is one tiny bit of bad news for vegans planning their dream, breakfast pastry-filled wedding: that Pinterest-inspired wall of donuts you’re after? It might not be the best display solution. Fresh donuts tend to droop and become triangular after a little while. Novak said a donut-shop secret is to make the treats a day ahead so they’re (gasp!) a tiny bit stale to hold their shape—something Cider Belly refuses to do.
Instead, she suggested, arrange the donuts on a decadent Venetian Table, maybe even with some desserts from other local bakeries mixed in. “It just gives you more options,” Novak said. “Nobody eats cake anymore.”
Donuts make a great prop for your ring shot! Photo: Rebecca Gatto
A SWEET NEW CHAPTER
Cider Belly is on the verge of opening a second Albany-area location near Colonie Center Mall. Follow @ciderbellyweddings on Instagram or check out the shop’s website, for updates.
Rebecca Gatto is a photographer, world traveler, and ethical vegan living in Upstate New York. She adores weddings and believes they are even better when they include compassion, environmental stewardship, and vegan cupcakes.