By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The signage hanging above the entrance in block letters simply reads “donuts.” The “o” isn’t illuminated, and the overall dull facade gives the impression of a place in transition.
But it isn’t.
Donut Panic has been around since 2014, ever since Mark Dami and his daughter, Linda Dami, took over the space from Sunshine Donuts. The name of the business is a clever play off the phrase “don’t panic” from the science-fiction book series, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” explained Linda.
Inside are a couple of couches positioned around a wooden coffee table. Music CDs hang from the ceiling. Floor speakers with their woofers exposed sit alongside a working turntable that looks straight out of the 1970s, much like the albums stacked on the shelves below it.
In groovy font, the words “Keep Calm, Donut Panic,” pop boldly off a wall in orange and yellow colors, practically stealing the visuals from your final destination a few feet ahead — that being the illuminated display case of donuts.
About 50% of the donuts are vegan. They’re made with potato flakes, which is Linda’s ingredient of choice for substituting the eggs and dairy that go into traditional donuts. She used to make them with soy milk, but customers began asking for soy-free options.
The first time I ever ducked in for a sugar fix, a vegan maple-bacon donut came to the rescue. The faux bacon has a coconut base, and the yeast-raised crumb offers a tad more chew compared to non-vegan donuts. But the appealing interplay of sweet and savory flavors will distract you from ever noticing.
“Lots of customers who aren’t even vegan say they crave them,” Linda noted.
Most recently I tried the vegan Neapolitan cake donut. It sports a vanilla crumb and is topped with strawberry and chocolate sprinkles. Very good and moist on its own, I nonetheless brought saturated fat into the experience by washing it down with a glass of cold milk when I got it home.
“If it wasn’t for the cost differences, you’d never know these donuts are vegan,” Linda added while pointing out that her vegan donuts are almost double in price compared to the regular varieties.
A single non-vegan donut, for instance, costs between $1.25 and $1.75. Their vegan counterparts range from $2 to $2.75. This is due to the array of gourmet-leaning flavors such as lemon-lavender, rosewater-cardamom, chai tea, and more. But keep in mind that a majority of them are available only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays — the days when their yeast dough is crafted.
The daughter-father duo make the donuts early in the morning, before Linda proceeds to her day job at the San Carlos branch of the San Diego Public Library. She holds a degree in anthropology from UCSD but always wanted to work with food.
“I wondered why I just didn’t go to culinary school,” she quipped.
Her father worked previously in the security-management industry. As the shop’s front liner, most customers know him on a first-name basis.
One of the desirable qualities I’ve found with these donuts is that the donut crumb — whether it’s of the cake or yeast variety — melts in your mouth as rapidly as the glazes coating them.
Such was the case with a regular apple fritter, despite its desirable denseness and crisp, sturdy exterior. A non-vegan raspberry-filled donut delivered a bright rush of fruity jelly oozing from the center. I didn’t care that the filling was artificially flavored. It tasted simultaneously sweet and tart, kind of like some favorite candy from my childhood.
Really, the only reason to “panic” at Donut Panic is if you tumble down that familiar donut hole in which you exceed your standard intake in one sitting. Mine is two. After that, I feel doomed by the calories, carbs and sugar.
In total, there are about 40 varieties of donuts for the choosing. But they sell out quickly most days. Such was the case on a recent Thursday when I called the shop at noonish for an inventory check. I was told the pickings were very slim.
Breakfast sandwiches and dark roast coffee by Starbucks are also available. And on occasion, the space makes way for sporadic art shows and live music.
6171 Mission Gorge Road, Ste. 113 (Grantville)
Prices: Donuts (vegan and regular), $1.25 to $2.75 apiece; regular donuts by the dozen, $12; vegan donuts by the dozen, $20; croissant and bagel sandwiches, $2.50 to $4
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.