Concocting up a craze with Pandamonium Doughnuts

By Saher Khan

It is 7 a.m. and James Kyung parks his pink, black and gray truck in front of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. A chalkboard with the day’s menu is set out in front, and a giant pink panda with doughnuts for eyes is painted on the side to greet the morning’s customers.

This is Pandamonium Doughnuts — a gourmet, or “specialty” as Kyung likes to call it, doughnut business. Kyung concocts an assortment of delicious doughnuts that he sells on campus via his doughnut truck from Tuesday through Friday. The staff parks the truck on Goodwin Avenue in front of Krannert and next to Espresso Royale on Oregon Street at 7:30 a.m. and stay there until they sell out.

The doughnut truck itself is a fairly new addition to the almost two-year-old project. The truck started appearing on campus in early November, but Pandamonium Doughnuts, as a business, has been selling doughnuts at Urbana’s Market at the Square since early 2013.

Kyung, 2009 alumnus of the University, got into baking and cooking during a time in his life when he was making health-conscious changes.

“The doughnuts started as an accident,” Kyung said. “I started baking as a hobby, but it was during this weight loss period where I lost 80 pounds, so during this process I got into cooking at home, cooking better, eating better and ironically I got into baking doughnuts and became obsessed with it.”

Kyung notes the gourmet or specialty doughnut scenes of Portland, New York and Chicago, and how unique styles and flavors of doughnuts have become trendy. After making his first specialty doughnut in October 2012, people pushed Kyung to start selling them at Urbana Market.

“I figured there is nothing like specialty doughnuts in town, so might as well do it for fun and see how it goes,” he said. 

Kyung said he feels that doughnut shops like Pandamonium Doughnuts are getting more popular because they are giving doughnuts a refreshing upgrade.  

He mentioned that one of the reasons Pandamonium’s doughnuts are different is not just the different flavors that are offered but also the artisan method the staff uses to prepare the doughnut base. Having worked on the recipe for the base since he began baking doughnuts, Kyung and his staff make the base fresh everyday using real, high quality ingredients that assure a distinct taste. The final touches to the doughnuts are unique flavor combinations they use to make them stand out, Kyung said.

“These aren’t your typical doughnuts, but something that is more of a delicious higher-quality pastry item that you can treat yourself to after a busy day,” Kyung said.

To help grow the business, Kyung got in touch with Matt Cho who works with [co][lab] in downtown Urbana, which is a cooperative space shared by designers and creative minds. Many businesses work out of there and Pandamonium was appealing because it was the first food business to come along. 

Here they came up with the idea of doing a pop-up for Pandamonium, which is a common practice in the restaurant industry where chefs open up a temporary restaurant, sell food for an allotted period of time and then close shop at that location for that period of time.

Kyung, with the help of the people at [co][lab], put together a pop-up in downtown Urbana. They used a temporary store-front after the Urbana Market to sell the doughnuts. Kyung did all the advertising via social media.

“We had no idea what the response would be because no one had done something like a pop-up restaurant in town before,” he said. “So we showed up that day and there was this small line of people, I had only brought about 100 or 200 doughnuts and we sold out in 30 minutes, so I was like OK, bring more donuts tomorrow.”

The pop-ups helped Pandamonium gain the momentum it needed. The final step was purchasing and detailing the food truck, which they accomplished earlier in 2014.

Jordan Donnellan, senior in FAA, said she doesn’t normally eat doughnuts but as a graphic designer the visually appealing quality of the truck is what initially spiked her interest. 

“I heard a lot of good things, and when I went I had a doughnut that was completely covered in chocolate with cake on top and it was so good, the sweetness of if kept me coming back,” she said. 

Donnellan said that Pandamonium makes campus a little more special because it’s different than the generic and commercial doughnuts from places like Dunkin’ Donuts. 

“There are doughnuts with fruity pebbles on them and things like that. The variety and the fact that you see all sorts of things you don’t normally see on a doughnuts makes it unique and great,” Donnellan said 

Kyung and his team of four other people bake all the doughnuts for the food truck at a rental kitchen the night before. They start around midnight and it takes them up to five hours to finish. They then load the truck and are parked and ready to sell by 7:30 a.m..

Andrew Shaw has been helping bake for Pandamonium but he was a customer first.  

“I saw them at the Farmers Market, and the fact that they were made fresh and a local start up business really appealed to me,” he said.

Shaw said social media has really helped spread the word — he saw on Facebook that they were looking for people to help bake the doughnuts and that’s how he got involved. 

“The night hours for baking sometimes conflicts with my schedule but other than that it’s been a lot of fun,” Shaw said. “It’s sounds so simple but the best thing about this is that the doughnuts just taste so good.” 

Shaw said he feels the accessibility is what keeps Pandamonium going. Despite the cold weather, since the food truck is located on campus and students are going to class, students can easily grab a doughnut on their way. 

Social media also helps, Shaw said. He said he checks Pandamonium’s Facebook or Twitter for updates on where they are selling and what they have so he can stop by and purchase a doughnut while on his way to work. 

“James is really passionate about the doughnuts,” Shaw said. “It’s more than a business to him, he really is about making the best doughnuts and bringing the best product to people.”

For Kyung, Pandamonium is about more than just creating delicious doughnuts; it provides him with a creative outlet he has been eager to express since his time doing photography while a student at the University. 

“I have always loved food, and it wasn’t until the last few years that I started understanding that food itself could be seen as art — but even better since it is edible,” Kyung said. “So when I approach my own doughnuts, I like to not only make them tasty, but also try to express them in a beautiful manner to complete the entire eating process.”

When it comes to making doughnuts, Kyung said that it all starts with what they have not seen before. Kyung said that he usually starts looking at popular desserts to try and find inspiration in something that hasn’t been translated in doughnut form.

“From there, I always ask myself, ‘How can I turn that into a doughnut?’ Then we experiment with the flavor and see what works and doesn’t work and keep tweaking it ‘till it’s ready for the public. Needless to say, we eat a lot of doughnuts during that time,” Kyung said. “People always ask if they can be volunteers.”

The Pandamonium doughnuts are primarily broken down into two categories: the yeast style and the cake style.

The yeast style is similar to a generic glazed doughnut and is fluffier and made with a yeast base while the cake style is made from a cake mix base and is smaller, denser and more flavor packed, according to Kyung. 

Kyung also has vegan doughnut options and the marshmallows he uses for the s’mores doughnuts are gelatin free.

“Everything is hand rolled, hand cut and is in true artisan form, made with real and organic ingredients,” Kyung said. “I like to do this because I want to try and have something for everyone. No one should be unable to have a doughnut because of dietary restrictions that we can work around. Everyone should be able to eat a doughnut.”

Kyung said doughnuts inspired him because baking is like a big science experiment. He enjoys doing new things and discovering all the different possibilities that can come from his work. Also, Kyung said everybody loves doughnuts, and he enjoys making people happy through something he can create that everyone enjoys.

In regards to the future of Pandamonium, Kyung said they are planning new flavors and are working on something for Valentine’s Day. The food truck has only been around since November 2014, but they are hoping to one day open a brick-and-mortar storefront. Until then, Kyung said people should keep up with Pandamonium.

Saher can be reached at [email protected]