Enterprising new shop Cartems Donuterie proves that the art of the doughnut is blooming in Vancouver

I used to have to cross the border for a fancy, artisanal doughnut. I’m talking about the new school of doughnuts that come in flavours like: bacon-studded bourbon maple, rose water glazed, and banana-filled dulche de leche.

I made the trek to Seattle’s Top Pot, Portland’s Voodoo and San Francisco’s Dynamo. I even went all the way to Austin, Texas, to get my mitts on Denton’s Square Donuts. Yes, square doughnuts. They taste the same.

Then innovation came to Vancouver, usurping Timmy Ho’s monopolistic grip on the city's doughnut market. Cartems Donuterie, a six-month pop-up shop by Vancouverite Jordan Cash, opened at Carrall and West Hastings in Gastown, February 15.

Jordan Cash at the helm of Cartems Donuterie pop-up shop at 408 Carrall Street, in Gastown. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

The Origins of Cartems Donuterie

Cartems Donuterie is the result of a dream. I don’t mean a dream in terms of misty plans that solidify into goals. Founder Jordan Cash was snoozing in South Korea when he awoke with an Eureka idea. He’s the local Einstein of bakery business concepts.

“I actually dreamt this back in 2002,” says Cash. “I had doughnuts on a plate with a knife and a fork. I saw the name ‘Cartems’ in the dream. I wrote it down.”

Cash takes a cardboard coaster emblazoned with Korean characters and flips it to reveal his scribbled genius, “Cartems.” It sits next to the register at the Carrall pop-up shop. He’s going to have it framed.

Cartems' triple chocolate threat. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

About the Doughnuts

Making the perfect doughnut back in the early days was not as easy as the Cartems team makes it look today. Cash doesn’t have formal training and the process took extra trial and error.

“I did a lot of doughnut eating,” laughs Cash, who graduated from UBC’s MBA program and experimented with doughnut making in his apartment. “But I was quickly humbled by how hard it was to make a good doughnut." Frustrated with the initial results, he enlisted the help of friends with a culinary background, including Calabash pastry chef Rajesh Narine.

This food lab resulted in a range of upscale, innovative doughnuts. Flavours include honey parmesan, carrot cake, earl grey, coconut with white chocolate callabaut icing, bacon bourbon and chocolate spiced. Take a look at the full list here.

But what differentiates Cartems’ product from what’s already on the market?

“We source local, organic ingredients," Cash explains. "We don’t freeze our doughnuts and move them around like the big guys; we make them fresh every day. Then there’s our flavours: they’re just different from what’s out there.”

The line is out the door and Cash has to stop chatting to help the lunch crowd. A surprising number of Gastown worker bees eat doughnuts for lunch. But the bacon maple bourbon treat is almost like a sandwich, right?

Cartems' earl grey and carrot cake doughnuts. (Image: Cartems Donuterie)

What’s Next for Cartems Donuterie?

The six-month pop-up shop, which sells out daily, may turn into a permanent resident of Gastown. Cash is looking for the right space.

When it comes to price, some balk at a three-dollars-a-pop fatty circle, but most understand that hand-made, organic/local treats don’t immediately benefit from economies of scale. Perhaps the price will come down in the future when Cartems expands production.

In the meantime, keep your eye out for the next Cartems flavour. I hear Cash and team are working on a pulled-pork fritter. When he says this, a rousing cheer rises from the 20 people crammed in the tiny shop. Vegan and gluten-free eaters can also find treats at Cartems. They happen to be Cash's favourites: this owner likes a challenge.