LAWRENCE, KS — Few things will entice people to stand in line outside a coffee shop in freezing temps on a Saturday morning. Lawrence, KS-based Slow Rise is one of them.
With a rotating seasonal menu and availability exclusively through pop-ups in Lawrence and Kansas City, MO, founder Jessica Dunkel’s unique take on donuts has grown a cult following in a little over a year. Slow Rise’s handcrafted signature product has a sourdough base with a fermentation process of nearly three days.
“A friend of ours gifted me a sourdough starter. I’d never made sourdough bread before, but I found it intriguing, so I was like, ‘Okay, why not?’” Dunkel said. “It was natural for me to be curious, to want to make the donuts. So that’s what I did, and it just snowballed from there.”
Upon receiving the starter — affectionately named Bubbles — Dunkel began trying out recipes she found online. After successfully creating her first of donuts, she began tweaking the formula to create a softer crumb and improve dough consistency, texture and taste.
“From there, I moved on to trying different fillings,” Dunkel said.
The success of the donuts caused the Dunkel family to add a 500-sq.-ft. licensed kitchen to their home to increase output and experiment further with flavors.
“Once we got our license, it opened the door to be more creative,” Dunkel said.
Dunkel’s inspiration for flavors such as Strawberry Rhubarb stems from the very place Slow Rise’s journey began: the local farmers market.
“Being at the farmers market directs where the flavors are going because it’s easy to see what’s in season, and we like to support the farmers there, too,” Dunkel said. “All of the fresh ingredients are at our fingertips, so it shifted from ‘What flavors do we want to do?’ to ‘What’s in season?’”
A lot of inspiration for some of the signature flavors, such as pandan coconut, can be traced back to Dunkel’s Indonesian heritage and her travels.
“I grew up with filled breads,” she shared. “All the breads that I ate growing up always had chocolate or coconut custard, even meat, so I wanted to do something like that.”
Sweet donuts are expected — Classic Cinnamon, Creme Brulee, Tiramisu and Nutella varieties are just a few — but Dunkel has played into unique savory options as well.
One of the more popular savory varieties is an everything donut with a cream cheese filling containing roasted garlic and chives. With a bit of R&D, she was able to create a kimchi flavor using product from fellow Lawrence Farmers Market vendor Wild Alive Ferments. Another vendor provided jalapenos, sparking a Jalapeno Cheddar donut that’s filled with whipped cream cheese, roasted jalapeno and cheddar cheese.
With its spike in popularity, Slow Rise is already outgrowing its home-licensed kitchen. With high demand and limited resources, it can sometimes be challenging for Dunkel to meet consumer demand. But the key to continuing to operate has been balance.
“When I first started, I just wanted to come out with good donuts where people truly love it and it could be word of mouth,” Dunkel said. “And it’s just me and Jeff [Dunkel’s husband] right now, so we’re doing the best we can to make the most donuts we can and also keep the quality the same.”
At the end of the day, Slow Rise is a labor of love for Dunkel and her family, who support the emerging bakery in a number of ways, from selling the donuts at pop-ups to designing product-inspired merchandise. Though the donuts are labor intensive — preparation for a Saturday event begins the Wednesday before — Slow Rise’s goal is to provide customers with a great experience and the best donuts it can offer.