West Coast-style donut shop offers a pastry for every taste
At this point, donuts are an American staple. We may as well start saying “as American as donuts,” since most Americans consume donuts more regularly than apple pie. But, like most foods considered to be tried-and-true American staples, they were brought here from somewhere else.
The jury is still out on when and where exactly Homer Simpson’s favorite treat originated, but the varying styles of donut do give us hints. Washington Irving — one of the first writers to use the word “doughnut” in print in the US — cited in 1809 that he often had them at the homes of Dutch immigrants. Culinary historian Michael Krondl traces it back a little further, finding references in English writings around the celebration of Fat Tuesday with hosts in Hertfordshire serving doughnuts as early as 1750. Donuts have had a long evolution over the centuries, transforming from simple fry cakes into jelly-stuffed pastries and sugar-glazed rings, often elaborately topped.
Whatever or wherever its origins, the donut abounds in regional versions. A lot of chain shops revolve around a dedicated style, whether it’s old-school, light, brioche-like yeast donuts or the buttery, rich goodness of a dense cake-style donut. But at Ava’s Donuts in Arden, the family-run business is slinging a wide range of styles, an approach that is “much more popular in the West coast of the United States. There are not many on the East Coast, so we wanted to open a new kind of concept donut shop here in Asheville,” says Jennifer Mao, who runs Ava’s Donuts with her mother and father, Kiyoeun Mao and Kry Mom. “We wanted to give our customers a good variety of styles to choose from.”
Named for Jennifer’s two-year-old daughter, the small mom-and-pop shop opened in July, in the middle of the pandemic (the family moving from Greensboro, North Carolina, for the venture). “It was a risky move, not knowing how business would turn out due to COVID-19,” acknowledges Jennifer. “Thankfully, the community has shown us so much love within the last couple of months we have been open. We appreciate [the area] so much for giving us the opportunity to serve.”
Nearly as soon as they opened, Ava’s Donuts was flooded with rave reviews, and they still maintain a 4.9 on Google and a 4.5 on Yelp — with the only 1-star reviews coming from a couple customers who were angry they’d sold out of donuts. (Regulars know to get there at certain times for certain flavors.)
The hype is justified. Something as simple as Ava’s cinnamon-and-sugar-coated donut is at once delicate and rich. Other toppings include cookies-and-cream, peanut-and-chocolate, coconut, and many colorful combinations of sprinkles. The maple-bacon yeast donut is a truly decadent indulgence. Other fan favorites include their blueberry cake donuts and their jelly-filled donuts, where you can actually pick the filling (lemon, raspberry, blueberry, etc.) to be freshly piped into your donut right in front of you.
The pastry list goes on to include enormous bear claws, cinnamon rolls, pinecones, and apple fritters. The shop’s frosted, cream-filled Long Johns, similar to eclairs and known on the West Coast, where they’re most popular, as “maple bars,” are a prime example of the donut diaspora.
“We are first-time small-business owners and we’re new to the donut industry,” notes Jennifer. “We started Ava’s Donuts with little knowledge about the donut business, but we learned the different donut styles from watching videos and doing our research … and with help from a few friends for guidance, who taught us the basics. We were learning everything hands-on from then on, and we mastered our techniques by practicing every day.
“Our donuts are hand made, fresh from scratch, each and every morning,” she adds. “They are hand fried, dipped, and decorated. A lot of love goes into our products.”
Ava’s Donuts, 26 Carl Alwin Place, Arden, open Tuesday-Saturday from 6am-6pm and Sundays from 6am-2pm. For more information, visit “Ava’s Donuts” on Facebook or follow them on Instagram: @avasdonuts.