Jelly Modern Doughnuts: building a sweet empire across the country

From the Prairies to the East, the Tripathy sisters bring sweet treats to Canadians across the country

Jelly Modern Doughnuts

Two years ago when sisters Rita and Rosanne Tripathy opened their flagship Jelly Modern Doughnuts store in Calgary, they were just hoping people would show up. But, little did they know that the city’s Breakfast Television producers had caught wind of their soft opening and created a demand the sister’s could only have dreamed of.

Rita and Rosanne Tripathy

“It was on Twitter everywhere and the food critics were calling,” says Rosanne. “Without any kind of marketing budget, people came to us and we had people writing about us.”

Rita and her husband Murray Coleman had brought the idea of starting Jelly Modern to Rosanne after returning from a trip to the U.S. They had tasted gourmet doughnuts on their travels and wondered why Canada — the doughnut capital of the world, boasting most shops per capita — didn’t have something similar. Though the sisters were both working full-time (Rita is a lawyer and Rosanne has a design degree), were moms and had busy lives, they decided to turn their passions for food and contemporary design into a business.

With the help of chef Grayson Sherman, formerly of Calgary’s St. Germain (the space Yellow Door Bistro now inhabits), the two sisters combined all their talents to create gourmet doughnuts made fresh in-house every day. With unique and mouth-watering flavours like s’mores and maple bacon, the doughnuts feature local ingredients where possible and have no preservatives or trans fats.

“Our idea was to try and make this doughnut, which is such a Canadian thing, the healthiest that it could be,” Rosanne explains.

Once opened, customers began engaging with the business on social media, asking for birthday parties, dipping parties and wedding cakes, along with Jelly Modern’s signature breakfast box: a doughnut, piece of fruit, yogurt and beverage. Soon after, a second location opened at the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Jelly Modern Food Truck was on the road.

Then came the break that launched Jelly Modern Doughnuts into stardom: the call from Lone Eagle Productions, looking to feature the café in a (then) new Food Network Canada series, You Gotta Eat Here!

They had only been opened a little over a year when the episode aired on May 25, 2012. If you were a Calgarian who didn’t know Jelly Modern Doughnuts existed before then, you certainly did after the episode aired.

“We knew it was coming that weekend but weren’t as prepared as we should’ve been,” says Rosanne. “It ended up running a little bit early on the Friday and it was mania in here. We ran out of everything. There were 12 of us working at the front. We even ran out of napkins and stir sticks.”

The show completely changed their business — Jelly Modern Doughnuts had become a nationally recognized brand with credibility.

“There were people who wanted us to ship doughnuts to them from across the country,” says Rosanne. “We realized that we should expand because this concept hadn’t really taken off in Canada. We were the first ones and there isn’t anything like us.”

The sisters responded with pop-up shops in Vancouver and Toronto at Holt Renfrew, Williams-Sonoma and CB2. When it came time to open a brick and mortar store outside of Calgary, Toronto ultimately won out over Vancouver when an old pizza shop on College Street became available.

“We we’re really getting a sense that Toronto was ready for us,” says Rosanne.

Before the Toronto location opened, Jelly Modern Doughnuts had stumbled upon another opportunity to get its name (and doughnuts) into people’s mouths. This time, the shop was to be featured in Donut Showdown on the Food Network.

Chef Grayson and his “doughnut assistant” Rosanne packed their bags and competed on the show, taking the win with their Bollywood doughnut: a spin-off on the ever-popular Nenshi’s salted caramel doughnut featuring deep-fried carrot curls.

“I’m a home baker but I had no idea what I was getting into,” says Rosanne. “I can safely say that was the most stress I’ve ever felt.”

They took their $10,000 prize and put it into the opening of the Toronto location in June 2013.

Their Eastern location has afforded Jelly Modern Doughnuts the luxury of being close to big events like the Toronto International Film Festival and the Delicious Food Show. They’ve taken their birthday party and breakfast meeting packages (typically offered in Calgary) and expanded them to launch parties and large corporate events in Toronto to appeal to a high-end customer base.

Although a Vancouver location is on the horizon, Rosanne says the sisters plan to take a bit of a break to catch their breaths. And, maybe, eat a doughnut or two.

Everyone does deserve a little break every now and again.

(1414 8 St SW, Calgary. Twitter: @jellymodern)