While the COVID-19 pandemic created insurmountable hardships for the restaurant industry, Vanessa Manalansan, owner of Orange County-based Small Batch Doughnuts, a delivery-only doughnut variety box, is a great example of how some local culinary creators have seized the opportunity to build their own brands during the pandemic.
As a professional pastry chef, Manalansan said Small Batch Doughnuts came to fruition as a means for survival for both herself and her customers in the early days of the pandemic. Having worked at the Laguna Beach-based Montage Resort, along with Disneyland, Manalansan said her pastries are heavily influenced by the melting-pot of cultures she serves in Orange County.
Prior to her work in Orange County, Manalansan said she was inspired by a move to Las Vegas, where she took a job at the Wynn Las Vegas, after graduating from culinary school. There, as a California transplant in Nevada, Manalansan gained an appreciation for Orange County through her travel.
“I’m obsessed with Orange County I think when I left California, you appreciate how much diversity there is in Orange County – it’s just a melting pot of everything,” she said. “I even created a doughnut that represents [Orange County] – it’s my Citrus Dream doughnut – it’s my orange jam-filled and it’s shaped just like an orange. I don’t know why, I just love Orange County.”
Starting with just a few hundred dollars in her pocket, Manalansan’s Small Batch Doughnuts delivers specialized variety boxes of two-inch mini doughnuts. Each order is placed 48-hours in advance.
“I’m a long-time pastry chef, just like everybody else in the restaurant industry, trying to think of ways to survive,” she said in an interview with Irvine Weekly. “And I thought, what better way to do that than get food delivered to people, just to keep everybody safe – staying indoors.”
However, these are not your typical doughnuts. With more than 120 flavors on Manalansan’s doughnut roster, Small Batch Doughnuts is all about variety, as Manalansan has a knack for creating exotic flavor combinations like Pink Lemonade, Citrus Mimosa and Mango Lassi.
“I just launched a mango lassi doughnut – I try to do that – I try to incorporate flavors into doughnuts that are just what I like to eat. Savory stuff, things like that – things that you won’t find common,” she explained. “I like to look at a meal and try to figure out how I could turn that into a doughnut.”
Currently working out of the Hood Kitchen Space, Manalansan said her new endeavor is doing well, but more so, explained that Small Batch Doughnuts gives her the opportunity to merge local flavors with the concept of elegant French-style treats. While her doughnuts are bite-sized, Manalansan suggests that eating smaller portions gives way for more variety.
“I like to do things fancy. I like french stuff – very petite – and when I eat, I like to eat bite-sized,” she said. “Our mini doughnuts are meant to be gifted like a box of chocolates – where you kind of don’t know what you’re getting. But, each box comes with a flavor card and I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘I hated this!’ I’m working 100 hours per week, but it doesn’t feel like work at all. I’m so happy.”
Now preparing for summer season, Manalansan said she’s excited about the debut of her Tropical Doughnuts Box, which includes Pina Colada, Pink Lemonade and Ube.
“Everything is fresh. The Pink Lemonade is made with the zest from pink lemons – that’s how I flavor the glaze, I squeeze the actual juice out of it. I use nothing, as far as imitation flavoring – I don’t use any of that. It is literally milk, heavy cream, powdered sugar, zest of the pink lemons, pink lemon juice – that’s it.”