Friday, December 20, 2013

A van worthy of its doughnuts

     My first glimpse came as it paused, making a right turn onto LaSalle Street, an improbable old blue step van with "Doughnut Vault" emblazoned on the side. Robin's egg blue and quaintly rounded — it looked like the milk trucks of my youth.   
     It is a 1957 International Metro in the service of Chicago's heralded Doughnut Vault, which I wrote about a few months after it opened in 2011. Besides making incredible doughnuts—the gingerbread cake is to die for—the Vault is known for the long lines which persist most days outside the tiny shop at 401 N. Franklin Street from the time they open until they run out of the thousand doughnuts they bake every day, usually by lunchtime.
    So not only is the van cool, but it fills an important function. No need to find the shop, immediately north of the Merchandise Mart, and wait in that line for 20 minutes or half an hour for your $3 doughnut. Now the shop would find you. 
    I couldn't run up to it as it turned, though I thought about it. Then the truck was gone, vanished into the air, like some exotic bird, seen for a moment in repose, then flapping off.
     Online, I gleaned that the van was created by Vintage Step Vans, a Columbus Ohio concern, and hit the streets in September. In case you don't want to rely upon serendipity, the van tweets its location @vaultvanChicago. 
     I didn't check its tweets. I waited. A few weeks went by. I was hiking to the County Building, when I caught sight of it perched outside Block Thirty Seven -- nesting on the sidewalk, as if it weren't incongruous enough. It was there as part of a NOSH event, trying to draw customers to the moribund development. But the truck remained outside, as if to be removed from the taint of the cursed structure.
     In the back was a young man wearing a fedora. His name is Derek Repsch, and he said not only are Doughnut Vault customers attracted but the van, but so are its employees.
     "It was a big draw for me," he said, selling me a birthday cake doughnut filled with frosting. "Frankly, I thought it was a lot of fun."
Derek Repsch
     The Doughnut Vault is the creation of culinary wunderkind Brendan Sodikoff, who also owns the Gilt Bar around the corner and several other hot area eateries. It was his sincere frustration with the lines outside the Doughnut Vault that led to the creation of the van. "I feel bad about the line," he told Chicago Magazine last year. "I called the city to see if I could sell doughnuts out of a Dutch-style bike to help cut the lines. But they said no, it had to be a motorized vehicle." 
     They didn't say it had to be such a delightful motorized vehicle. That's just the kind of attention to detail that also makes for great doughnuts. It was natural that they would create a vehicle that stands out from the generic colorful cupcake wagons and waffle vans.
     "Throughout the whole company, there's a kind of aesthetic," said Repsch. It shows.


  1. Neil,

    This comment is actually regarding an earlier column when you wrote about a jewish bakery that was run by Orthodox Jews. I may get up to Chicago some time and I love great bakeries. Would it be offensive if I were to go to that bakery? I do not know the customs of the Orthodox and would hate to do something that would cause them grief.

  2. Anyone can go.
    Just don't ask if they use lard as the shortening!


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