By Bhavana Gopinath –
Susan Hamer of SuzyQ Doughnuts sees joy in the potential of the raw and unfinished. Before her current identity as doughnut maker extraordinaire, she was a ceramic artist. She’d look at a lump of unformed clay and sense its nascent possibilities. Naturally, she sees happiness in the store’s new location at 969 Wellington St. W., presently in a just-moved-into condition. There is work to be done, but coffee and doughnuts are ready. Susan visualizes seating for patrons to savor their food, enjoy ice cream, and sample the brunch menu she plans to introduce in the spring.
“I think about doughnuts a lot!” Susan admits. She is excited about having more space to test new concepts. She keeps a sketchbook of ideas, dreaming up new flavors before testing and finally placing them for sale. Her range of doughnut flavours include Maple Bacon, Raspberry Cassis, London Fog, Carrot Cake, and the traditional Finnish Sugar Munkki.
The doughnut recipe is actually her mother’s, who’d harboured it through the family’s flight to safety when Finland was overcome by war in 1940. Good food was part of growing up. Susan’s mother had studied pastry making in Sweden and worked in a restaurant there before moving to Canada.
When Susan moved away from home, she realized how much she’d taken high-quality food for granted. While cooking for herself and her family, she honed her culinary skills and realized that she was “pretty good” at it, and possessed a “decent palette.” She intuitively understood the play of ingredients and flavors.
“Food is a creative outlet,” says Susan.
Not only is she artistic, but also has a substantial understanding of the food business; having worked in hotel kitchens and in Ottawa’s Memories Restaurant and Domus café.
In 2011, when Susan’s then-employer, Canada Post, faced strike action, she had the opportunity to put her skills to use. Her doughnuts were already a hit with her children Atticus, Theo, and Annika, and in their school bake sales. She made a batch of Sugar Munkkis for the Lansdowne Farmers’ Market and the response was incredible.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Emboldened, and with the support and encouragement of husband Mark and her in-laws, Susan took the plunge and opened SuzyQ in 2012.
It was an immediate success and she couldn’t keep up with the demand. She is grateful for the community’s support. “This is a wonderful neighbourhood,” she enthuses. Her patrons’ responses to her creations give her “immediate gratification.”
“We are extremely grateful for the support from our customer base, and we don’t ever want to take it for granted. We have to keep pushing ourselves.”
Susan believes that it is important to source local and quality raw materials, to engage with her customers and to listen to staff input. SuzyQ is a family affair. Mark is deeply involved in the store (among other tasks, he takes care of the all-important deep fryer), and Atticus, 17, is doing his work placement here.
Her philosophy about sourcing locally is evident in her choice of suppliers: flour is milled in Old Montreal, while dairy, maple syrup, bacon, fruit and coffee come from Brums Dairy, Wheelers Maple Products, Adams Sausage, Rochon Gardens, and Happy Goat Coffee respectively.
The new location still has some kinks to iron out but Susan wants you to know that your favorite doughnuts are fresh and ready, and more options will be out soon. For spring, she is thinking of new foods, perhaps with a Scandinavian touch. It’s not final, but “thoughtfully prepared” Swedish pancakes, cold berry soups, and sandwiches are possibly on the horizon, and of course, “wonderful things with doughnuts.”
You may know the doughnuts, but here are five things you may not know about the person behind the doughnuts:
1. Susan is very shy.
“I don’t like attention on me,” she admits, and says she hates to be singled out for attention.
2. She is very resourceful.
“I can MacGyver a lot of stuff, and have a lot of useful skills – I know how to build an earth oven,” she says. She went to girls’ camps as a kid, and can survive outdoors.
3. She doesn’t like camping.
Survival skills aside, she’d prefer the comforts of an Airstream any day. Her husband takes the kids camping.
4. Susan likes urban chaos. “It calms me,” she says. She’s spent four years in art school in quiet and scenic Nelson, B.C., but always preferred the bustle of Vancouver.
5. Susan fell asleep at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. She laughs about this and says in her defence that “a lot of my energy goes into my work.” Presumably, she dreamt of doughnut glazes that night.
Read more “five things” profiles right here and learn about some of the people who make our community a great place to live.