Donut Papi: The Sweet Child of Kenny Rodrigueza
20 August, 2020
Kenny Rodrigueza was born in the Philippines and migrated to Australia in 2010. He studied fine arts and videography. His choice of tertiary studies seems irregular, or at least incongruent with his current position as the owner and operator of renowned Sydney donut outlet, Donut Papi.
Scientists advocate the existence of seven basic tastes, but there is one which is heavily favoured by Filipinos - sweetness. “Donuts are very popular in the Philippines. They are a well-known thing your parents will bring home to you after work.” Kenny was a donut connoisseur at a young age, but creating his own came much later. “I was creating videos for Youtube, and I was baking in a lot of them”. The positive feedback for his early batches motivated a growing interest, “my family would eat them, and I took them to work and people told me they were really good, so I started experimenting with a lot of recipes and began adding my own flavours.”
“it was an extremely traumatic experience. The first day I sold no more than 10 or 15 donuts”
Markets were the mechanism for putting Donut Papi into the hands of Sydneysiders. Kenny’s ascent was not linear, more so undulating with more than a few notable troughs. Kenny accepted the opportunity of a pop-up in Darling Harbour, in what he reflects on as an “extremely traumatic experience. The first day I sold no more than 10 or 15 donuts.”
Markets and pop-ups, serviced by a commercial kitchen setup, served its purpose, but for Kenny, the off-site preparation hindered the most imperative characteristic of a quality donut, “the freshness. When doing markets, there is too much time lost to travel and setup. It detracts from the freshness, the freshness you could have experienced 3 hours ago.” Baking is an art of subtleties, of which Kenny says “something about it is very precise and very challenging”. But, as long as there existed a significant lead time between the donuts exiting the fryer and entering a customer's mouth, Kenny’s proficiency would be, at the very least, partially squandered. The answer was beyond obvious. Kenny needed his own space.
“I didn’t come from a wealthy family. Everything I needed for the Donut Papi store was funded by what was earned at the markets and wholesale"
Donut Papi took the form of bricks and mortar on Redfern Street, Redfern in December 2017. For Kenny, it was both the pay-off for just under three years of hustling and grinding, and the representation of something “really scary”. “I didn’t come from a wealthy family. Everything I needed for the Donut Papi store was funded by what was earned at the markets and wholesale. Much of the business aspects were also new to me.”
The timing of the Donut Papi store opening was remarkably bad. It fell on the back end of a fading trend. From 2015 to 2018, doughnuts assumed the title of the on-trend dessert, previously held by cupcakes. Much of this can be attributed to the Brisbane-born 'Doughnut Time'. Early 2018 saw the market-forced downsizing of Doughnut Time, as the brand struggled under high operating costs and shrinking sales. The fact that the Donut Papi stands today as a thriving Sydney dessert institution is a telling testament to the strength of the Donut Papi brand, product and loyal customer base. Today Kenny can sell as much as 1000 donuts a day, and whilst the donut fad may be dead, the acknowledgement of quality is enduring.
Within Sydney hospitality, Donut Papi is an established brand. But, at the heart, it is a local family business, born in the markets of Sydney. “I am a creative person. Creating a donut from scratch, or a new flavour is my passion. It gives me a rush. All my donuts are made by hand.”
MON TO TUES : CLOSED
WED TO SUN : 12PM - 5PM
34A Redfern Street, Redfern