Orange County’s much-acclaimed and heavily-Instagrammed Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee opened its first San Diego County store on Monday in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center.
The 5-year-old company is known for turning out handmade-from-scratch artisan doughnuts hot and fresh every hour. On a busy weekend day, the company’s shops in Costa Mesa and Santa Monica can make and sell from 2,500 to 3,000 doughnuts apiece.
Co-founder Sumter Pendergrast, 41, said the idea for Sidecar actually came as an afterthought to him and his wife, Chi-Lin, 43. Originally, they wanted to open an artisan coffeehouse near their home in Newport Beach but the coffee market was “a very crowded space.”
Instead, they decided to give doughnuts a try. Pendergrast grew up in Atlanta where he relished eating the hot doughnuts rolling out of the kitchen at his local Krispy Kreme. He liked the idea of replicating the hot doughnut service but in a more artisan way.
“Doughnuts are a staple of American culture, but most doughnut shops didn’t pay attention to things like customer service, decor, the quality of their coffee and the freshness of their doughnuts,” he said.
In late 2012, the couple rented a former art warehouse in Costa Mesa and, with a pastry chef, they spent several months developing recipes and flavors.
Their test customers were people who lived and worked in the neighborhood. As soon as the warehouse doors swung open each day, people would come running to taste-test the hot doughnuts.
From day one, the Pendergrasts chronicled their developing flavors and business plan on Instagram, which in return began promoting Sidecar as an example of good Instagram marketing.
By the time they opened their first store in April 2013 on 17th Street in Costa Mesa, they had a large built-in customer base. A second store followed in November 2015 in Santa Monica. The Del Mar shop is the company’s third.
Sumter Pendergrast said they chose San Diego County as their next expansion market because it’s got great potential.
“San Diego is filled with so many people who love food,” he said.
Sidecar serves eight standard flavors every day and three to four seasonal varieties each month. The top-selling flavors are Oregon huckleberry, maple bacon and butter & salt, which is Pendergrast’s favorite. Prices start at $3.
All of the doughnuts are made from scratch, not mixes, with fresh fruit jams, sauces and glazes made in-house daily. There are both raised and cake varieties. The house specialty, priced at $6, is the malasada-style Basil Eggs Benedict, a ball-shaped doughnut filled with a poached egg, Benton’s ham and house-made Hollandaise sauce.
The company’s executive chef is Erika Viramontes, who joined the company 18 months ago. Each month, the stores also serve a doughnut created by a different California chef, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the chef’s favorite charity.
Last August, celebrity chef Richard Blais of Del Mar created a banana split doughnut, made with banana chocolate chip cake dough, strawberry banana glaze, peanuts, chocolate sauce and a dried strawberry. In April 2019, the featured chef will be San Diego chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins of El Jardin restaurant.
The shops also sell a variety of coffee drinks prepared with their own house brand coffee, which is locally roasted to order.
Because all of the doughnuts are made by hand and are coming out of the fryer right up to the last hour before closing, the business model for Sidecar is unusual. The Del Mar store has 40 employees, about 10 times more than traditional doughnut shop model. But Pendergrast said customers have been more than willing to pay for the difference.
The Pendergrasts own Sidecar in partnership with food industry veteran Bob Nilsen, a former chief executive with Yum Brands (Yum Yum Donuts). They don’t plan to franchise their business anytime soon because they like the idea of growing at their own pace and maintain design control.
Before starting the business, Pendergrast was working as an artist and Chi-Lin was a professional photographer. Because design was so important to them both, each store has a unique look that reflects the community it serves. The Del Mar shop is sunny and ultra-modern.
“We didn’t want to be a chain where every store looks the same,” Pendergrast said. “We like the idea of being the community doughnut shop.”
Sidecar Coffee & Doughnuts
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays. 6:30 a.m. -9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Del Mar Highlands Town Center, 12925 El Camino Real, Suite D68, San Diego.