Doughnuts have undergone a makeover over the past few years. Boston’s Blackbird Doughnuts and District Doughnut in D.C. have revolutionized the donut flavors beyond chocolate frosted and powdered sugar. But if you’re looking for the most mind-bending, road trip-worthy doughnuts in America, you’ll only find them at The Doughnut Project in New York City.
The Doughnut Project is the brainchild of Leslie Polizzotto and Troy Neal, who met by chance back in 2011. “I was practicing law in L.A. and when my husband would travel to New York for work I would tag along. One time we did the touristy thing and ate dinner at the bar in Eataly’s Manzo, and Troy was the bartender” recounts Polizzotto with a smile in their sunlit shop in Greenwich Village.
“I had been making doughnuts in my apartment in hopes of opening my own place, and we got to talking” Neal chimes in, chuckling. “In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I told them I wanted to open my own doughnut shop, and she busts out her phone and she’s got sprinkles and doughnuts all over the place.”
Polizzotto told Neal she and her husband were moving to the city soon and wanted to be involved. “I think he thought I just wanted to be an investor, but my firm didn’t have work for me as soon as I got to New York so even though I’d always worked for someone else I decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to do that doughnut thing with Troy,’” she says.
It took months of planning and fundraising before the doors of The Doughnut Project finally opened in October 2015. Since then, they’ve made a name for themselves with their mind-bending, taste bud-awakening and for-a-limited-time-only collaborations with brands, bars and restaurants. “Our first was with Angry Orchard—we did an Angry Fritter for them with their hard cider on our first National Doughnut Day back in June 2016, and we actually did a second collaboration with them for National Cider Day,” Polizzotto fondly recalls.
Neal says that after their early success with themed doughnuts, brands like Adidas and Ciroc now approached them for partnerships. “For the Restaurant Series and Cocktail Series, we’re actually the ones who pick and choose. Anything we can put booze in, or burn or put meat in…”
Anheuser-Busch, Campari, Cavit Wines, Ciroc, Hot Ones Hot Sauce, Patron, Président Cheese, Redemption Whiskey and Ruffino Prosecco are just some of the brands the pair have rolled out week- or weekend-long collaborations with over the past two years—all while maintaining a small menu of delicious staples like everything bagel seasoned and birthday cake doughnuts. Then there’s the Restaurant and Cocktail Series that they’ve invented limited-engagement crazy confections for through partnerships with local favorites like Bar Primi, Don Angie and Quality Eats.
They remain committed to never using from-a-box ingredients, which only furthers their appeal to fellow food brands and customers alike. “We get calls from people from out of state saying, ‘OK you still got that one? I’m coming in for a dozen,’” Neal proudly reveals with just a hint of awe in his voice.
Polizzotto admits after a beat: “I mean, we haven’t totally gotten rid of the sprinkles,” and they giggle together.