CHRISMAN – An idea to support a community event has grown into a side business for Deborah Hale.
When the Chrisman High School FFA started a farmers market three years ago Hale wanted to help the students have enough vendors for the market. She used canned biscuit dough to fry fresh doughnuts at the location. The canned dough was OK to get started but it didn’t satisfy Hale’s idea of what a doughnut should be.
“I like yeast doughnuts,” she said.
With that commitment, she started a yearlong process testing different yeast recipes to find one she liked and was suitable for use at different locations. She zeroed in on one recipe, made a few modifications to suit her taste, and Deborah’s Donuts was on a roll.
Hale attended the Chrisman farmers market, festivals and other events where she prepared the dough and fried it fresh under a tent. People like a good doughnut and the public responded.
“People started asking me to do it for weddings and showers,” Hale said.
She quickly discovered loading her vehicle for each event with tables, equipment, supplies and tent then setting up for the event followed by tearing down, packing the vehicle and transferring everything into a shed at home was a tedious and time consuming task.
“It was a lot of work taking all of that,” said Hale. “I wanted something to keep it all in.”
The solution was a 1973 Wildcat camping trailer, which brought its own adventure of tracking down the original owner for a title transfer. Hale gutted the inside of the trailer and installed a work counter, prep sinks, deep fryer, a refrigerator and shelving. She also painted the outside pink with a horizontal band of artwork depicting candy sprinkles such as those used to decorate doughnuts and cakes.
A pink trailer stands out but so does the rest of the space that includes a turntable playing 33 1/3 rpm vinyl albums and occasionally the presence of a colorful quilt made by her husband’s grandmother.
Hale likes the symbolism of records being round with a hole in the center for use at a doughnut stand but more important is the unique touch and sound the turntable adds to the trailer.
“I just love anything vintage,” said Hale.
Making doughnuts on the road is much easier now with everything inside a trailer for towing to a location.
“It really seems to have taken off this year,” said Hale.
She attended the June 23 Paris Farmers Market and sold out of doughnuts twice. Alternate Saturday mornings she is at the Danville Farmers Market, providing she is not working a festival or other special event. Help at the big events consists of her son, Porter Hale, a Chrisman High School student.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” she said. “We are so busy.”
Hale’s goal is to provide great doughnuts to customers. She makes her dough fresh every day from flour, sugar and yeast and does the same for her glaze and other icing options. The dough is always made fresh as needed as opposed to mass produced batches used by bigger retailers.
“A yeast doughnut has to be light, fluffy and airy,” said Hale, adding humidity and other weather factors influence how the dough rises. “There’s a real science to getting that.”
Part of what makes Deborah’s Donuts so appealing is her effort to fry each doughnut when it is ordered so the pastry is served warm to the customer fresh from the fryer.
“I can’t always do that when we are busy,” she said.
Hale acknowledged surprise at how the business has grown.
“I didn’t expect it to take off. It was a hobby to do in the summer, but I really enjoy it,” said Hale, who works as a teacher’s aid during the school year.
At this point, Hale doesn’t have expansion plans.
“I don’t want to overthink it,” said Hale. “I just want to enjoy what I’m doing. If you aren’t happy, your customers aren’t happy.”
Deborah’s Donuts is open 7-10 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in the side yard of her home at 301 N. Illinois, Chrisman. She hooks up the trailer and is at the Chrisman Farmers Market 4-6:30 p.m. every Friday.
Saturday mornings she may be at the Paris or Danville farmers market or a festival.
The business always has glazed yeast, s’mores and buttercream donuts plus a special flavor that changes every week.
The weekly special gets posted each Wednesday morning to Deborah’s Donuts Facebook page.