Wil Drake had no idea his craft doughnut concept would do as well as a pop up as it’s proven to do. His and co-owner Jason Wallis’ goal was always to have a brick-and-mortar location. Now, they are building on their Pepper Place and other market success with a location for Hero Doughnuts in the former Homewood Musical Instrument Co. next to Nabeel’s on Oxmoor Road. It’s set to open this fall.
Why doughnuts? Why now?
I’d been cooking in Birmingham for a while at different restaurants and had helped open Woodlawn Cycle Café in Woodlawn, and I was ready to pursue my own thing. Growing up in South Georgia, I was obsessed with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and I always had the idea to open a craft doughnut shop in Birmingham. We started doing Pepper Place, and we could never bring enough doughnuts.
What makes a Hero doughnut a Hero doughnut?
I love cake doughnuts and yeast doughnuts, but the lighter, fluffier ones are my favorite. I tested 70-80 bread recipes and worked on it for close to a year. We use fresh yeast that’s temperamental and temperature-sensitive, which in the South is crazy but exciting because you have to be on your toes. We mix it one day, cut out doughnuts on the second day, and on the third day proof and fry them. Our brioche dough is essentially a white bread that is heavily enriched by eggs and butter that make it moist and luxurious. We add good ole natural fat and awesome European-style butter.
What flavor should we try?
The best sellers are vanilla bean glaze, chocolate glaze and maple sea salt, and the cream-filled doughnuts like Boston Cream go almost as fast. Fritters and cinnamon rolls also sell well. People flip out over the strawberry doughnut, but they only last a month during Alabama strawberry season. We also make blood orange or prickly pear, and a strawberry malt using Nesquik—it actually is naturally made from beet powder. We do the farm-to-doughnut thing, but some of the things we do are nostalgic.
When they are in season, we do peach fritters, and then we switch to the apple fritters through the fall and winter. Then we do pineapple fritters when it gets warmer. We are working on a corn doughnut since we grow a lot of corn in the South, but we don’t want it to be weird.
How did you land in this spot in Homewood?
We’d been looking for a long time and had other spots we were close to signing deals on from Crestwood to Avondale, but Homewood was always the place I loved. My wife and I lived on East Glenwood across from the park and would walk to the park every day. I used to work at Saw’s too, and I love how everyone is always out walking and the park attracts so many people.
I’m stoked about the location. I wanted there to be a lot of kid traffic, and I love that we are by all the schools. Maybe we can convince the Iron Tribe folks to eat some doughnuts too.
What will the new location be like?
I didn’t want to cover up anything in the kitchen especially the glazing process and making the dough. You can actually see it from the street too. We will probably have about four table tops in there, and a garage door on the right side we can open when the weather is nice. We will put as many outdoor seating spots as possible.
Our breakfast sandwiches will have what looks like a mini hamburger bun made with the same yeast dough—with eggs, cheese, and meats. We’ll have a fried chicken sandwich you can get all day, and you can order a doughnut box full of them. We serve Domestique coffee; they just opened up their roastery in Lakeview. We will do their Nitro cold brew charged with nitrogen that makes it feel creamy and regular cold brew too.