For years, the display case at Monuts in Durham has been reliably filled with four cake donuts and four yeast donuts of varying seasonally inspired flavors. The owners, Lindsay and Rob Moriarty, were so confident in the restaurant’s signature offering that they put it in the name—a portmanteau of Moriarty and donuts.
So it may come as a bit of a shock to learn that, as of this fall, Monuts has scaled back its donut production in favor of other pastries.
The long weekend lines of customers that snake through the restaurant and out the door are now met with a case filled with cinnamon rolls, brioche danishes, cakes, scones, and other treats. From now until Wednesday, if you buy an espresso drink or pour-over from two to four p.m. on a weekday, you get a free pastry.
Donuts are still made daily—now only six types instead of eight—but kept behind the counter.
The reason for the overhaul is admirable. Simply put, the Moriartys want Monuts to be a rewarding place for employees to work.
“Even though the flavors of the donuts change, the actual making of donuts is very routine,” Lindsay says. “People who are drawn to baking and cooking enjoy the challenge that comes with making new things and learning new recipes. And it became clear that doing the same thing every day was boring.”
So boring, in fact, that some bakers quit their jobs; some stayed but were unhappy, and the Moriartys struggled to hire talented workers. They pride themselves on making Monuts a good workplace; they pay employees a living wage, offer benefits, and care about job satisfaction. So having an unhappy kitchen was untenable.
“If people want to bake more, let’s let them bake more,” Lindsay says. Plus, she says, that’s good for Monuts. “People who love their jobs are more invested in the whole project.”
About four months ago, the Moriartys hired Jenn Hallee to be Monuts’ first bakery manager and oversee the pastry transition. Production has changed from about 95 percent donuts to closer to 60 percent. New weekly staff meetings focus on anything from quality control to Christmas cookies, and the whole staff collaborates on developing pastry ideas and recipes.
“I don’t eat breakfast before coming to work anymore,” Hallee says. “In the morning I sample everything we put out, and my goal is to provide some structure and guidance to the bakery so we can keep expanding products and sales. There are so many opportunities to make something unique, that you can’t get at a grocery store or other bakery, and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
One of the projects on the horizon is taking Monuts’ house-made jams and compotes and incorporating them into more sweets. Short-crust pastries like pop-tarts and hand pies are also in the pipeline, as is an expansion of the gluten-free and vegan dessert menu.
Indeed, the Moriartys’ plan seems to be working. They received more job applications this season than ever before, the vibe in the kitchen is noticeably more upbeat, and people are excited to come to work again.
Itati Linares has been a baker at Monuts since it opened, but she says she was starting to feel stuck. The new pastry program has convinced her to stay on even longer.
“I have something to look forward to now,” Linares says, noting that the challenge of learning something new—and taking pride in what she makes—is truly satisfying. “It’s nice to have because it’s a new stage, even though I’m at the same place. It’s what you look for [in a job].”