Understanding How Philadelphia Went Nuts for Doughnuts

Tracing the city’s long love affair with the iconic baked treat through several centuries

Philadelphia has a long history with deep-fried dough, dating back to the 17th century, when the area’s Pennsylvania Dutch settlers invented the precursor to the modern doughnut. Now, restaurants all around town offer batches of the baked treat. Whether you like them powdered or glazed, cakey or yeasted, whole or with a hole, there’s a doughnut in Philadelphia for you. To understand the city’s love affair with this iconic treat, travel back in time with this handy dandy guide.

1683

Solicited by William Penn, the first wave of German immigrants arrive in Philadelphia and settle in the counties west of the city between 1683 and 1783, where they would later come to be known as Pennsylvania Dutch (an appropriation of “Deutsch”). The majority of these immigrants were persecuted Christians, who observed the tradition of abstaining from meat in the pre- Easter period called Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The day before is Shrove Tuesday, a last hurrah when it’s traditional to eat dough fried in lard—the proto doughnut known as a fastnacht.

1936

Culinary Arts Press publishes the Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book of Fine Old Recipes. It contains recipes for fastnachts and fastnachts kucka made with honey or molasses.

1947

Joseph Frangelli opens Frangelli’s Bakery in South Philly, filling doughnuts to order with various creams and jellies.

1949

After completing service in the Navy, Alan Ebert purchases Springdale Farms in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which to this day makes the best cider doughnuts in the area.

1965

Dunkin’ Donuts opens its first location in Philly, on 7000 Chester Avenue. It’s still there today.

1985

Beiler’s, a produce stand in Reading Terminal Market, starts selling doughnuts, which eventually becomes its most popular product.

2010

John Colosi buys Frangelli’s and brings back a classic: the ice cream doughnut, a block of Neapolitan wrapped in a soft hole-less doughnut. Meanwhile, PYT, a youthful restaurant in Northern Liberties, introduces the Krispy Kreme Burger, two beef patties with American cheese and chocolate-covered bacon on a glazed doughnut.

2011

Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook open Federal Donuts, a fried chicken-and-doughnut shop in Pennsport, with other partners. The cake doughnuts are served fresh-fried and dusted with Middle Eastern-spiced sugars or glazed and festooned ahead of time in flavors like triple chocolate and guava poppy. Philadelphia collectively lost its mind.

Federal Donuts

2013

The city’s first UNDRGRND Donuts food truck rolls into town.

2015

Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot, chefs and authors of the influential blog-turned-cookbook Ideas in Food, open Curiosity Doughnuts in Jersey’s Stockton Market, where the yeasted treats have crackly shells, tender interiors and glazes like caramel and passion fruit. They’re only open Sat.-Sun., inspiring carpools of Philadelphians to hit the road every weekend. At the same time, Jeff Poleon and Matt Quinn found Dottie’s Donuts, the city’s first vegan doughnut shop.

2016

Dottie’s jumps from wholesale to retail, with a brick-and-mortar location on the westside.

May 2017

Music pals Joe Marro, Zach Zarrillo, Ben Walsh and Scott Luciano team up with ReAnimator Coffee’s Mark Corpus and Mark Capriotti to launch Hello Donuts, a wholesale-and-popup bakery supplying café’s like Herman’s Coffee and Benna’s West with cake and yeast donuts, plus fruit fritters made for the omnivorous and vegan crowds.

October 2017

The Federal Donuts crew publishes “Federal Donuts: The (Partially) True Spectacular Story.”

Hello Donuts

Adam Erace
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