Gourmet Goodies at Hook & Press Donuts

Owner John Burnett Hones His Gourmet Morning Treats for Sell-Out Crowds

John Burnett decided to do something about Santa Barbara’s lack of gourmet doughnuts by opening Hook & Press on State Street.

Paul Wellman

John Burnett decided to do something about Santa Barbara’s lack of gourmet doughnuts by opening Hook & Press on State Street.

What’s been missing in Santa Barbara, land of wine and sunshine and tacos al pastor aplenty? For those seeking a top-tier doughnut, the stretch between Leadbetter Beach and La Cumbre Peak is so bereft that our best bet is driving an hour-plus north to San Luis Obispo or south to the San Fernando Valley. That’s a commute that mortgage lender-turned-entrepreneur John Burnett could no longer suffer.

One morning in 2013, Burnett realized that, despite the few classic, workhorse doughnut shops in town, he couldn’t find the kind of high-end morsel he craved. “All of these people in Santa Barbara love fresh, seasonal [foods],” said Burnett, so he started brainstorming flavor combinations with his wife, Denisse Salinas, a private chef. “That got us really excited. We recognized that the doughnut is a perfect canvas.”

Inspired by nouveau doughnut artists such as Sidecar Doughnuts in Santa Monica and The Salty Donut in Miami, Burnett and Salinas — who’s also a food blogger at LePetitEats.com — began developing the concept for Hook & Press Donuts. “Hook” refers to the mixing attachment used to make the dough, and “press” for coffee, which is the doughnut’s finest accompaniment.

Three years later, they were selling their first doughnuts privately. Then, last month, Santa Barbara’s first brick-and-mortar gourmet doughnut business debuted in the new Mosaic Locale, a co-op in the former Peet’s Coffee spearheaded by the Impact Hub. Joining Hook & Press in the venture are empanada maestros Buena Onda and Goleta’s brew-masters Draughtsmen Aleworks, plus a minifridge for Juice Ranch’s nectars.

How much demand is there for these hole-y hedonistic treats? On day one, Hook & Press opened at 8 a.m. and was sold out in 90 minutes. Ditto the following morning. Clearly, Burnett must make more, but that’s a logistical headache — he crafts his doughnuts offsite in a commissary kitchen, as the Mosaic Locale has no space for a proper kitchen.

By the time I sauntered in at 8:45 a.m., the pumpkin cheesecake doughnuts were dusted. So I chose between the vanilla bean glazed (the only non-rotating style), brown butter and sea salt, fig-honey-pistachio, Mexican cocoa, apple cobbler, passion fruit-orange-guava (beautified with an edible flower from Flora Vista Farms), and PB&J (peanut butter glaze adorned with a lattice of blackberry jam glaze).

Each day, Hook & Press offers eight flavors, each made from scratch, incorporating regional ingredients when possible, and costing $3.25. The yeast-raised rounds — a fritter is in the works — are neither too dense nor too airy. They’re a solid two inches of sufficient heft with the main sweetness coming from the goopy yet culinary toppings. The brown butter one lands with a high-pitched savory note unafraid to put its nuttier, butterier foot forward and then letting the salt granules run cleanup.

Despite Burnett’s computer file with baker’s dozens ideas (and impressionist sketches to match), the daily selection is strategically curated. “I think eight is enough,” he said. “You want them to have their own personalities. Yet there’s something for everyone: bright and fruity versus rich and chocolaty.”

With upcoming plans to incorporate chai, chia seeds, and maybe Draughtsmen’s porter beer, there are both mature flavors and ones sure to please wide-eyed children — luckily, none of them were there in line when Hook & Press sold out, at least not in the literal sense. Said Burnett of his doughnut dream becoming a reality, “I’m trying to bring out the 6-year-old in all of us.”

1131 State St.; 689-6820; hookandpressdonuts.com