MEET ERIN, OWNER OF DONUT VILLA DINER
Nothing makes vegans happier than having an ENTIRE vegan menu to choose from, whether that be at an all vegan restaurant or a veg-friendly one. Donut Villa Diner in Malden gained a ton of vegan traffic during summer of 2020 when word got out they offered an assortment of vegan options at this family-owned diner! Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought this past year and a half, Donut Villa Diner not only continued to expand their vegan offerings, but also opened a second location in Cambridge’s Central Square, right on Prospect Street! I interviewed Erin to learn more about this awesome diner, their vegan options and where they come from, and where he sees Donut Villa Diner in the next 5 years!
Photo from Donut Villa Diner of their new Cambridge location!
Q+A With Erin Bashllari
When was DVD founded and how did it come to be?
There is quite a history to DVD. Donut Villa was founded in 1973 in Malden. For 45 years they served donuts, egg plates, sandwiches and coffee. They were very popular and even opened a second location in Everett. However, the space in Everett was sold and the Malden location was struggling as well. My family and I took over in Malden in 2017. After completing a 4 month renovation, creating a full brunch menu and introducing new donuts we opened as Donut Villa Diner; we kept the 50 year donut recipe of course.
What inspired you to start offering various vegan options on the menu?
I’ve wanted to add some vegan options to our menu since I stopped eating meat products in 2019. As you know one of the hardest parts of having a diet change is having access to it everywhere. At around the same time, I visited London and noticed that there were vegan options everywhere. That’s when I realized, the vegan game in Boston is not the best(admittedly much better now). It was so easy to stick to the diet change even on vacation because you had choices. From that moment I realized I just had to make it happen. Shortly after this decision, COVID came. Our main priority was to keep our staff and customers safe, so we closed during the peak for a month a half during which time I created the vegan menu. All this really means is that I made and ate a lot of good (and terrible) vegan food.
How do you decide which vegan items to put on the menu and what products/brands you use for them? Do you taste test the options yourself?
This is a combination of personal preference, taste testing, trends and a lot of market research. I’m in charge of the vegan menu so everything that goes on there is either approved or created by me. We’ve had the menu for a little over a year now and until now the biggest challenge is to get the vegan ingredients in the store. It is very similar challenges as buying products in the supermarket; a simple example would be ordering something that says “plant based” but when it arrives finding out that the sugar used isn’t organic or it’s processed using bone char. When it comes to the brands, I just go by taste. If something tastes good to me, I will do a small testing with a few people and it will go on the menu.
How have vegan sales been? Have you found a lot of people are taking advantage of the vegan menu?
From day one we’ve had such a positive response with the vegan menu. The vegan community is so great and they’ve supported us from day one. Our vegan sales are now accounting up to 20% of our total sales. Even non-vegan guests are ordering vegan food at times to try it out. This allowed us to hire a consultant so that we can make most of the stuff in house (seitan sausage, pancakes, tofu scrambled etc). I think that was my favorite part from adding that vegan menu. It helped us lower the food cost which in turn helped us keep the prices down. This meant that all the support we got with the vegan menu in the beginning just made it’s way in a full circle: taking some of the profit and reinvesting it into the community.
What are some of the most popular vegan items on the menu? What’s your personal favorite item?
Other than the donuts of course, right now the vegan breakfast sandwich(JUST egg, VioLife cheese and house seitan sausage) and vegan chckn’ which we make in house are the most popular. For me it’s the crispy chckn’. We have staff that are omnis who order that for their lunch rather than regular chckn’ now. Also of course, the donuts.
It’s amazing you opened up a second location recently in Cambridge! What has business been like during COVID overall, and did you expect a second location during the beginning of the pandemic? How long was that in the works for?
I still can’t believe it either to be honest, it’s been such a whirlwind. Overall we did have significant sale losses during COVID. We closed for a month and a half so that was tough. But when we reopened we totally pivoted our business model to take out and delivery only. I was very happy that we did not have to lay off any employees and even hired a delivery team that was able to make deliveries for us. We were doing well pre-covid which had helped us with the second location. It was in the works for almost 9 months- since September 2020. It was certainly a huge risk back then but we pulled through.
Who comes up with all of the donut flavors?
Currently it’s me but our baking team is expanding so that might not last long!
Where do you see DVD in the next 5 years, including business growth, locations, vegan offerings?
Our main goal right now is to be accessible to everyone. We want our food to be accessible regardless of your diet, income or restrictions. You can see that whether it be on the price point or the different menu options offered (vegan, gluten free etc). As long as we continue in this path, I would love to continue cultivating our vegan menu by refining it even more and offer as many options as possible.