The first time Leslie Grana ever made donuts from scratch was also the same time she started a donut business.
The trained professional chef and Filipina immigrant had been working in prominent downtown Vancouver restaurant kitchens as a sous chef but had shifted gears to be a stay-home parent after she and her wife welcomed twins.
"One day, I said: 'I'm going to have a donut shop in Vancouver," Grana explains.
The hitch: While Grana was at ease making entrees and savoury dishes, she was not a trained pastry chef.
But Grana knew donuts and knew that Vancouver could use another option in the category that would feature more unusual ingredients.
The idea for what's now her one-woman donut business, Twins Donuts, began to form.
On a tour of her donut-making station in the shared commissary kitchen of Burnaby's YVR Prep, Grana tells me how she got her start making her glistening fried yeast dough orbs filled with avocado cream or strawberry cheesecake mousse with colourful toppings.
While one of Grana's earliest jobs in Canada was working the early shift at a Tim Hortons, her point of reference for donuts goes back to her roots in the Philippines, and a popular chain called J.Co. Known for flavours like "Cheese Me Up" and "Avocado Dicaprio," Grana used J.Co's trademarked eccentricity as a touchstone when applying her own understanding of flavours to a sweet treat like a donut.
In January 2022, Grana was faced with returning back to work but, instead, she couldn't shake her donut shop idea.
Inspired by a viral video of a New York woman who launched an independent side hustle making donuts out of her home kitchen, Grana got to work.
She taught herself how to make a simple, not-too-sweet base dough, and then started creating fillings.
Grana, who describes herself as not a dessert fan, says most of her donut-eating experiences in Vancouver were unsatisfying - the donuts were overly-sweet and one-note.
The chef says she wants her Twins Donuts to be the kind of treat you want to eat from start to finish because it's not just a pure sugar experience, but an enjoyment of textures and flavours.
'The best donut I've ever had'
The first donut Grana created was the Leche/ Dulce Flan, showcasing a treat familiar to many, including in the Philippines. The donut has a dulce de leche filling - sweetened condensed milk reduced to a near-caramel texture - and a miniature caramel-topped piece of flan on top, with powdered sugar.
To get Twins Donuts going, Grana made a batch and offered them for sale in a neighbourhood social media group.
Her first customer told her "This is the best donut I've ever had."
That was all Grana needed to get going. She set out to develop more flavours and opened up for pre-orders using social media. Capping her capacity helped control costs and mitigate safety issues working in small batches from her home kitchen. Things were going so well that Grana soon realized Twins Donuts couldn't carry on from home; she wanted the business to grow but she had to be in a commercial kitchen.
After contacting numerous facilities, Grana connected with YVR Prep, which launched in late 2017 as a food business incubator and shared kitchen space for local entrepreneurs. She had exhausted all her options, but was immediately welcomed by the facility, which accepted her on board and helped her get going - in fact, one of YVR Prep's distinguishing characteristics in the industry is that they can offer a full spectrum of support for new and growing food businesses.
"The hardest part is to make it work," admits Grana, who arrives at the 24-hour commissary in the early morning hours to get her donuts made on pick-up days.
Focus is on quality of ingredients, special flavours
Twins Donuts are all made to order the day-of, and every component is scratch made - every filling, every icing, and, of course, every fluffy, golden-fried donut itself. And Grana is the one doing all the work, using carefully sourced ingredients and being mindful of waste, resulting in an artisanal-style product that by nature can't compete price-wise with what's in those little racks at Timmies. It's also why at this stage of the business she can't offer gluten-free or vegan donuts - on her own in a shared kitchen means having to focus her labour on a single product and no guarantees about cross-contamination.
The taste and quality of Twins Donuts are also superior to your average big donut chain, with flavours like a Nutella-frosted donut with a Nutella cream cheese filling sprinkled with nuts on top, or the Avocado Krema, which features a mildly sweet creamy avocado filling and white chocolate topping. Grana says avocado is used often in desserts in the Philippines, and she's excited to introduce Metro Vancouverites to this use of the ingredient.
She's already at work dreaming up more flavours, like mango, matcha, and an apple cinnamon one that's already in development.
"All I know is I make flavours. That’s all I need, my flavours and dough,"
Right now Twins Donuts remains a pre-order and pick-up operation, but Grana plans to sell at farmers' markets and community events to expand her reach. After that, who knows where this busy wife, mom of twins, and donut shop owner can go - except up.
Video: Peek behind the scenes to see Twins Donuts being made
@vancouverisawesome Watch these unique donuts get made! And eaten! 🍩#forkingawesome #donuts #vancouverbc #burnabyeats ♬ Love You So - The King Khan & BBQ Show
Twins Donuts are available in limited quantities each week by online pre-order for pick-up at YVR Prep at A5-5279 Still Creek Ave. in Burnaby. Follow Twins Donuts on Instagram @twinsdonuts2020.