“Mmm, doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?” Homer Simpson’s famous quote kicks off Federal Donuts: The (Partially) True Spectacular Story, the new cookbook from the team behind one of America’s most promising casual restaurants.
Federal Donuts, the Philadelphia-based doughnut and fried chicken shop, is the brainchild of five entrepreneurial food obsessives from very different backgrounds: Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, who run the restaurant group CooknSolo (Zahav, Dizengoff), and their partners in Federal Donuts and Rooster Soup Co., Tom Henneman, Bobby Logue, and Felicia D’Ambrosio.
Their unlikely concept — a casual cafe that serves fried chicken, cake doughnuts, and coffee — has taken off and now has a cult following. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Once they’d agreed on the concept, they realized that no one on the team knew how to make doughnuts. “Once we settled on donuts, I was like, ‘How do you make donuts?’” Cook writes, noting he remembers “Googling ‘donut machine.’”
Eventually Cook and Solomonov did buy a doughnut machine — from a guy in a Roy Rogers’ parking lot seven hours outside of Philly — and learned that the secret to good cake doughnuts is to add “more butter and sugar.” Still, the founders admit to having some fear of failure early on.
“Right before the opening, I remember thinking, I just threw away a $7,000 investment and I’m okay with that,” Cook writes. But then on opening day, an hour in, “we were in the fucking weeds,” Solomonov writes. “And our batter wasn’t good. The donuts kept breaking in half on the flipper part of the Robot...” The pressure was on.
“And there was a line of 50 to 75 people waiting for chicken,” D’Ambrosio recalls. When the cooks couldn’t keep up with the orders, the team decided to give the food away on that first day of service.
“We got a standing ovation from everybody when we said, ‘Chicken’s free!’” Logue writes, “The whole line screamed and applauded.”
Somehow, despite the early set backs, some serious hate mail (which they reveal inside the book), and several recipe tweaks, the original shop is still standing and there are three additional locations in Philadelphia, one in Miami, and more on the way — and now, a cookbook full of memories and recipes.
Excerpted from Federal Donuts. Copyright © 2017 by Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.