Vandal Doughnuts is closing its doors—for now | The Coast Halifax

Vandal Doughnuts is closing its doors—for now

Amid staff shortages, the popular north end haunt is doing some “soul searching.”

Vandal Doughnuts is temporarily closing its doors on Gottingen Street.
Vandal Doughnuts is temporarily closing its doors on Gottingen Street.

No, Vandal Doughnuts isn’t gone for good. Or at least, that’s the message owner Jens Heidenreich tells The Coast when reached by phone on a late Friday afternoon.

But as you might’ve heard rumoured online, the 2150 Gottingen Street donut shop is, indeed, closing for the time being. With a change in ownership and a scarcity of bakers—there are currently just two staffers, and one is a part-timer—Heidenreich says it’s time to pull back until Vandal can “provide a consistent product to our customers that they deserve.

“And in the meantime, while we can't provide a consistent product, we shouldn't be doing that. So that's it: We're temporarily closed, because we don't want to dissatisfy anybody.”

Ownership changes

The popular north end donut haunt, known for its Simpsons-inspired sprinkled donuts and over-the-top creations (last July, the Vandal crew made Corgi butt donuts to support the SPCA), has gone through a few iterations in its lifespan. Co-creators Nicole Tufts and Sonia Mota launched the business out of Gus’ Pub in 2017 and it became a hit. Within a year, they had plans to open on Gottingen Street—then Tufts had a health scare that caused the duo to think about selling the business instead.

“It got overwhelming. You want to put your personal well-being ahead of everything else,” Tufts told The Coast in 2019.

Enter Heidenreich, along with partners Ezra Edelstein and Frédéric Tandy (chef and owner of Ratinaud, located across the street from Vandal at 2157 Gottingen). Having run The 244, a neighbourhood takeout eatery specializing in fried chicken and burgers, they vowed to take Vandal over and bring the business backing that freed Tufts and Mota to create.

But, well, times change. Both Tufts and Mota moved on. Tandy, riding a wave of demand with Ratinaud, switched his focus to his charcuterie restaurant. Edelstein moved to Windsor with his partner, where he’s been renovating an inn.

That leaves Heidenreich, a radiology professor by trade, left to steward Vandal.

“I'm a physician; I've got nothing to do with donuts,” he jokes. “I was just a good friend of Ezra’s.”

Still, Heidenreich says, he “wasn’t ready to let go” of Vandal.

“Because I really enjoy having this community connection… We try to support local, we try to support mental health initiatives, and it was important for us to always be part of the Feed Nova Scotia initiative, because that's dear to us.”

Worker shortage

If there has been any factor to point to for Vandal’s temporary closure, Heidenreich says, it’s the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a widespread labour shortage.

“We've had people leave because they were being paid higher wages elsewhere than we could justify in the current market environment,” he tells The Coast. “And we haven’t been able to recruit anybody with a skillset that’s required.”

Heidenreich says Vandal has “always, historically, started paying above minimum wage,” but that in recent months, new front-of-house hires started at Nova Scotia’s minimum wage. (As of Oct. 1, that’s $13.60 per hour.)

Halifax’s food service industry has come under criticism in recent months for its long hours and low wages. (“The kitchen work [in Halifax] is plenty, but the money is awful, awful, awful,” chef Harpreet Jagdeo told The Coast earlier in October.)

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a worker would need to earn $23.50 per hour for a living wage in Halifax—a far cry from the province’s minimum wage.

Heidenreich says he’s “quite sympathetic” to the discussion of a living wage, but he feels there’s “a large degree of naivety” around how a small business would make ends meet.

“If you go to a company like Tim Hortons, or if you go to a company like McDonald's, they're obviously much larger corporations with entirely different profit margins than a tiny little hole-in-the-wall donut shop,” he says.

Mulling a new location for potential reopening

When and if Vandal Doughnuts reopens, it may not necessarily be on Gottingen.

“I don't have the answer to that,” Heidenreich tells The Coast, when asked about whether he’ll keep the lease on its current location. He mentions that a Dartmouth reopening could be a possibility, as “there’s still a business relationship there.”

The donut shop’s staff, he stresses, are still getting paid in the meantime—“I just dropped off the paycheques at the shop on Wednesday,” he says—but he notes he’s “going through a bit of a soul searching phase” with what to do next. The phone number for Vandal is no longer in service. The company’s website appears to be offline. Vandal hasn’t posted on Instagram since September.

When asked if he’s soliciting job applications, Heidenreich says he’s interviewed and “started training a few people,” but there aren’t enough bakers to resume production.

“The key issue for us is do we have enough bakers in order to fill a consistent shift and be able to give our employees time off—and we've got right now only one and a half bakers, and you can't run a shop with one and a half bakers.”