Donuts practically grow on Chris Moquist’s family tree. His grandpa Cliff began selling freshly made ones in the 1950s, alongside grocery staples and ice cream, at his Dairyland shop in Watertown, S.D. The signature recipe retired with Grandpa Cliff and was lost for nearly 40 years until the family had talked about it enough to inspire Chris Moquist to leave his corporate job—he wanted to revive one of his dad’s favorite childhood memories and create a donut for Twin Cities enthusiasts.
There would be some constants from Moquist family lore: top-quality ingredients, amazing ice cream and great customer service. But they’d add inventive flavors, fair-trade coffee and a prime Minnetonka location. After five years of trials to perfect the base donut recipe—a blend of wheat, barley and potato flours with a secret spice blend—YoYo Donuts & Coffee Bar opened in 2010 with a commitment to taking the donut break to the next level.
“It’s easy to make a great donut one day, but it’s very difficult to do it day after day after day,” says Moquist. “We strive for absolute consistency and quality.” YoYo sells from-scratch, small-batch donuts in creative flavors (a favorite is a maple syrup donut topped with bacon) and up to 30 varieties of super-premium ice cream available seasonally by the scoop or in take-home pints and quarts. They use local, fresh ingredients like Ames Farm honey and Autumnwood Farm milk, without preservatives or dough extenders. And the team takes its coffee very, very seriously.
“Before we started, I tried a lot of donut shops around the country. Lots of them had donuts that weren’t bad, but their coffee came from a carafe that had been sitting on a burner for eight hours. I knew we needed a great cup of coffee—that was a non-negotiable,” says Moquist. He partnered with fair-trade coffee roaster Kickapoo Coffee to bring in roasts that honor farmers and the environment. “They do coffee in the best way. They do coffee right: quality, consistency, taste. That’s not an easy thing to find,” says Moquist. “Our customers have fallen in love.”
Another YoYo distinction isn’t what it adds to its creations, but what it leaves out. The entire facility is peanut- and tree-nut-free, and therefore more allergy-friendly. “Hundreds of kids have had their first donut or scoop of ice cream here because they can’t visit other bakeries or ice cream shops,” says Moquist. “To see those parents tell their kids they can pick out anything—it’s often emotional for them.” He says that selling point alone has kept many families coming in, and it made up for some of the stress of launching a small business. “When you start out, you do everything: customer service, making lunches, mopping. Someone once came up to me early on—a really large tree trunk of a guy. He picked me up and spun me around like a little ballerina,” recalls Moquist with a laugh. “I found out his son had allergies and had just had his first-ever donut. It never gets old seeing a kid run up to the case, eyes wide as saucers. Kids are some of our most important customers.”
There are always the drop-in customers looking for a pick-me-up or sugary treat to brighten someone’s day. But the shop has created some unexpected buzz, too. The donuts-in-lieu-of-wedding-cake trend is big right now, so the team has dazzled countless brides- and grooms-to-be with fun, personal combos. In 2013, Moquist and his baker Stormy Strommes also won Food Network’s Donut Showdown. They made it past an elimination round where they had to incorporate a mystery ingredient, and then won $10,000 with a series of three raised donuts based on a tailgate party theme.
Rosi Men manages day-to-day operations at YoYo and says there’s art and science to anticipating the flavors that guests will want. “Every day is a little bit different, and as I create production sheets, I’m trying to predict sales based on orders, seasons, the weather and current trends,” says Men. She also has the responsibility and honor of dreaming up YoYo’s ice cream varieties.
“For a while I was doing flavors based on our donuts—like dirt and worms, and maple bacon. This year we did cherry cola. There’s always one crazy flavor,” says Men. She agrees with Moquist about the importance—and fun—of impressing their tiniest customers. “One time a small child just ran across the store, hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for the ice cream.’ ”
Filling the ice cream case is a serious job. YoYo has received National Ice Cream Retailers Association (NICRA) Blue Ribbon awards for several of its flavors and was recently named a Grand Master. “Every year they judge vanilla—that is your paramount flavor,” says Moquist. “If your vanilla isn’t up to snuff, you’re not going to have a shot at doing other flavors well.” And while it’s fun to spend a few days each year reveling in cutting-edge ice cream techniques and flavors at the annual NICRA convention, Men says it’s just as important to be inspired by others in the field.
“It’s a fun group of people to meet and hang out with—in the ice cream world, we’re all here for each other and help each other out,” says Men. Like a mother who refuses to name a favorite child, she has a hard time deciding on a flavor. “Ooh—chocolate caramel chocolate chip. It’s a chocolate salted-caramel base with chocolate chips in it. It reminds me of a Rolo.”
Bill Ressler of Eden Prairie discovered YoYo shortly after moving to Minnesota. He found the cheerful atmosphere to be conducive to work. He’d set up shop there almost every day—his laptop, a latte or cold-press coffee and a donut keeping him company—and some of his best ideas came to him at YoYo.
“It’s like the Cheers of donut shops—where everyone knows your name,” says Ressler. “Of course, the donuts are terrific. The ice cream is extraordinary. The coffee is the best coffee we’ve had in the Twin Cities—and it’s the best cold-press, by far, that we’ve ever had anywhere. But one reason to go back to YoYo again and again is the people—they’re kind, thoughtful, generous, sweet people who excel at making my kids and me feel special every time we walk in the door.”
If a birthday, anniversary or holiday comes up, you can bet Ressler will bring a tasty treat. His YoYo box usually includes a few donuts of the month, and he rarely leaves without ice cream and coffee to go with them. Says Ressler, “YoYo donuts have become our way of saying thanks to the people we care about the most.”