In downtown Tucson, office workers point through the glass display and discuss which donut they want to bring back to their desk. DoorDash Dashers rush in to grab orders. The sweet smell of sugar and freshly fried dough fills the air of this donut shop.
Jessica Mueller co-owns Donut Bar with her husband, Nick Mueller. Although, since opening, Donut Bar has become an even bigger family affair. Nick’s brother, Brad Mueller, became the general manager and their mother, Mary, became the “donut shop mom,” according to Brad Mueller.
Donut Bar opened just over a year ago. It started as a franchise based out of San Diego, California but has since been orphaned and is completely independent. This allowed Jessica, Nick, Brad and the rest of the Donut Bar team to expand the menu however they wanted without needing approval from the original franchise.
“On our year anniversary, we released six new flavors, donut cakes and five or six types of grilled cheese. We have it all in our kitchen, so the possibilities are endless,” Jessica said.
The menu has 30 donuts in total: 15 core flavors that are made every day and 15 that rotate weekly. Brad picks the rotating donuts each week out of the 100-plus flavors they make in the store.
Donut Bar sells huge donuts with elaborate decorations on top. One of their most popular donuts is the Unicorn donut, made with buttercream frosting and candy melts and topped with a smiling face and a unicorn horn.
Brad said that the bestsellers are normally the Homer donut, cake batter donuts and the Unicorn. He said people tend to “gravitate towards sprinkles as well."
“Kids will walk in, and their face just lights up. They’ll point at one through the glass and say, ‘I want that one!’ There’s no better feeling,” Brad said.
Even without the enormous donuts, it is almost impossible not to smile when walking into Donut Bar. The bright pink walls, disco lights and giant mural of a donut with wings (their logo) look like a dream to anyone with a sweet tooth.
The inviting environment sets Donut Bar apart. “We chose it because it wasn’t just a normal donut shop where you buy a donut and then leave. … We want people to stay and have fun,” Jessica said.
It’s easy to have fun with their late-night hours, too. Donut Bar closes in the afternoon but reopens from 5-10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. During the night hours, they sell wine, local craft beer, more freshly baked donuts and grilled cheese donuts.
The Donut Bar’s biggest passion of all, though, is the people. They love and care for their customers and employees most of all. The family affair has extended beyond blood and now encompasses the people that work there, too.
Many of the employees call Mary, “mom,” according to Brad because they have been working together for months during the pandemic and have become a tight-knit group.
Jessica said that her two sons, ages six and two, are very comfortable in the restaurant and many of the employees know them as well.
“All of the staff knows [my sons], and they walk around like they own the place, even though they don’t,” Jessica said. “My littlest one walks around, and there’s racks of donuts decorated or waiting to be decorated. You don’t think about it, but some of them are at his height, so he’ll just walk by and grab donuts. And my six-year-old loves to decorate, so we’ll give him a piping bag and let him have fun.”
Brad and Mary’s care for the customers shone as they greeted everyone with a huge smile and warm welcome. The Donut Bar team expressed that they couldn't have been successful without the support of the local community.
“One of the biggest things we want to stress is without Tucsonans stepping up and supporting us through the pandemic, we would’ve had to close our doors. We care about them just as much,” Brad said.
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