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The Story of The Doughnut Project

a box filled with different kinds of donuts

In the heart of Manhattan’s West Village stands The Doughnut Project, founded by Leslie Polizzotto, a hand-crafted delight that redefines the doughnut experience where you can indulge in a symphony of flavors. Led by an inspiring all-female team, this small-batch doughnut shop first opened its doors in the embrace of October 2015. Leslie’s experience over the past 8 years has been that women work better as a team. They all pitch in and ensure production and sales in the shop go smoothly. “Women are also used to wearing many hats in their day-to-day lives and can handle multi-tasking and doing whatever it takes to get the job done,” Leslie says.

In every batch, Leslie embarks on a culinary adventure, pushing the boundaries of traditional doughnut-making to craft unique combinations that delight the senses. Her culinary prowess is more than a skill; it’s an art form that transforms dough into canvases for creative masterpieces. Their shop transforms doughnut-making into an art form, weaving together unexpected ingredients to craft flavors that resonate with the senses. Their flavors have always taken inspiration from food and cocktails. They use ingredients such as beets, ricotta, olive oil, black pepper, etc. in their doughnuts.  They also take inspiration from nostalgic treats, desserts and pop culture references. Their doughnuts have balanced flavor profiles, so they are either sweet and savory, sweet and spicy, or sweet and salty.

“My favorite doughnut is our PB&J Doughnut. We have a partnership with Skippy who provides the peanut butter (which we tinker with!) for this doughnut. It is sweet and salty with a hint of spice. It is divine! It also is an important doughnut to me because it was one of the first partnerships I established with a large brand,” Leslie says.

However, it’s not just the flavors that make The Doughnut Project stand out—it’s the spirit of collaboration and connection that defines its essence. With a magnetic energy, the shop forges alliances with local, national, and international brands, crafting tailor-made doughnuts that commemorate product launches and elevate special occasions.

What truly sets this shop apart is the magic woven by founder Leslie Polizzotto, a trailblazer whose journey is marked by resilience and the pursuit of joy. Her life story, encapsulated by the motto “It’s never too late,” showcases the essence of chasing dreams without constraints. Leslie began her college education at 29 at UCLA, her journey continued with her graduation from Pepperdine University School of Law in 2008, culminating in her venture into business ownership at the age of 46.

four women posing for the camera wearing doughnut project shirts

Her past corporate and legal background provided her with the problem-solving skills and critical-thinking skills to run a business. She professionally had a very structured environment, which is beneficial when starting a business. “Becoming a lawyer is not an easy process. You have to be diligent, determined and put in the work. The same concept applies to starting a business. When you own a business, it becomes integrated into your life. You work on it everyday. Therefore, it needs to be a business that you love and care about.” 

Yet, amid the hustle and bustle of running a business, Leslie remains a steadfast advocate for self-care. Her commitment to maintaining a work-life balance is a testament to her understanding that nurturing oneself is instrumental to nurturing a business. By prioritizing activities that rejuvenate her spirit and foster well-being, Leslie creates a harmonious synergy between personal care and professional success. Her approach serves as a reminder that the journey of entrepreneurship isn’t just about scaling heights; it’s also about embracing the small moments that fuel both individual growth and business evolution. “I work out almost every day. I get manicures, pedicures and facials. I put the phone away most days when the shop is closed. I diligently make time to take care of myself.”

a box of donuts

The heart of The Doughnut Project’s triumph lies in Leslie’s unwavering commitment to crafting an immersive experience. Her store transcends a typical doughnut shop, and instead engulfs visitors in an atmosphere where every detail—from the music played to the art on the walls—works together to create an unforgettable experience when savoring her signature doughnuts.

Leslie utilizes community involvement and engagement in her business’s success. “We collaborate with many restaurants, schools and charities. We have done many Weekend Special doughnuts inspired by dishes from West Village restaurants. We donate a percentage of sales to charities of a certain doughnut sold over a period of time.  We donate doughnuts for school auctions, etc. Globally, we have established a reputation as a must-visit destination in NYC. So we fit into the fabric of the ‘quintessential’ NYC neighborhood that everyone wants to visit.”

The turning point in her business began with an invitation to Doughnut Fest in Brooklyn and her victory provided her a $3,000 investment to nurture her dreams. Later, it was the release of the audacious Everything Doughnut in February 2016 that pioneered their steep rise—a doughnut that challenged boundaries with its hint of garlic, leading to an overnight transformation that left a mark on the doughnut world.

In the heart of New York City, The Doughnut Project is more than a shop; it’s a sanctuary of flavors and experiences, driven by Leslie Polizzotto’s unwavering dedication and the profound joy she shares with the world.

Visit the Doughnut Project with us on our Greenwich Village Food Tour! Use code LAL10 for 10% off!