Duck Donuts creates what I have come to think of as a delicious, edible paradox. As someone who has professed loyalty to the corporate doughnut god Krispy Kreme since childhood, I can confidently say that my Duck Donuts experience was one for the books.
What started as a small-town doughnut restaurant located in the Outer Banks in Duck, North Carolina, has evolved into a rapidly growing franchise across the East Coast. Since opening in 2006, Duck Donuts has spread to 10 states and reached almost 200 stores, including a recently opened location in Columbia.
What sets Duck Donuts apart is a vanilla cake base. As the name suggests, this results in a more filling, “cake-like” breakfast pastry. This is in part what creates the aforementioned edible paradox: a dense yet pillowy interior is paired with a slightly crispy outer layer that melts in your mouth at the first bite — a quality that most traditional yeast doughnuts sadly lack.
The shop offers traditional doughnut flavors including powdered sugar, chocolate icing and cinnamon sugar, but it also has more eccentric combinations such as peanut butter icing with hot fudge drizzle and lemon icing with raspberry drizzle.
According to assistant manager Jen Williams, the most popular doughnuts are the maple icing doughnut with bacon crumbles, and the vanilla doughnut with Oreo garnish. Although customers can choose from a list of preset doughnuts, categorized either “fun” or “classic,” there is also a build-your-own doughnut option. Customers can choose their own coating, topping and drizzle to create a unique flavor, which could potentially make 4,000 different combinations.
The store was surprisingly busy for mid-morning on a Tuesday, but most people received their orders within a few minutes. Williams said that during the week their busiest hours are typically between 4 and 7 p.m., where there is usually a line out the door. However, she noted that even during a rush, the longest wait time is normally only about 15 minutes.
The store keeps the wait short by using an efficient system of four team members behind the counter. As the doughnuts print out, an expeditor runs the fresh pastries to the toppers who glaze and top the doughnuts. Another team member calls out order numbers and gives them to the customers.
While the store is already perpetually busy, Williams predicts an influx of USC students when classes return in August.
Ultimately, the classic cinnamon sugar doughnut is delicious and highly comparable to the famous mini-donuts at the State Fair. But for the more adventurous flavor connoisseur, I would recommend the maple bacon doughnut — it’s hard to beat a beautiful marriage of sweet and savory.