At 2 a.m. one night in mid-November, a nearly full moon lights up a shopping mall along Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. A busy thoroughfare by day, the road is now extremely quiet and rather dark, with just a little light emanating from behind one of the shops in the mall. Inside, under fluorescent panels, a frail man wears an apron and a cap. He bends over a wooden kitchen island to undertake a ritual he has performed nearly every night, seven nights a week, for more than 30 years.
It’s Dandy; the shop is Dandy Donuts.
Dandy pulls out a jar of cinnamon and apple filling and spreads it on a pastry-lined baking sheet. The 67-year-old uses a scraper to mix the ingredients, then works quickly to shape the dough into donuts. Dandy’s chopping and the roar of the blender and fryer are the only sounds. With the exception of his old-fashioned donuts, for which he uses a hand-held extruder, Dandy shapes his treats by hand, a dying art among donut makers. He moves through the kitchen with fluidity, like someone who has been doing it for decades.
Dandy usually arrives at the store between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., working alone. By the time he’s done, he’s produced about 50 dozen donuts, which customers will start dropping by as the city wakes up. Dandy’s donuts are a minimalist contrast to more elaborate modern varieties: here, sour cream, old-fashioned blueberry and glazed honey reign supreme.
Dandy grew up in Vietnam, where he served in the South Vietnamese army. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Dandy, who preferred not to give his Vietnamese name, was captured and imprisoned for seven years in a North Vietnamese re-education camp. Eventually he got out and escaped Vietnam by boat, one of thousands to make the perilous journey during this time. Dandy eventually found his way to Georgia, whose Vietnamese population grew during the 1980s and 1990s as the United States took in refugees in the aftermath of the war.
Dandy found a job at Your DeKalb Farmers Market, where he worked for a few years until a friend bought a donut shop. His friend, who had emigrated from Cambodia, couldn’t master donut making and recruited Dandy, who turned out to have a talent. After a few months, Dandy offers to buy his friend’s shop: If you don’t sell it to me, I’ll open my own donut shop., he remembers saying. The friend sold.
Dandy never planned on owning a business, but the idea quickly came to him. “You do this job, you don’t have to work for someone else,” he says, twisting the dough into crispy pieces. “Some people say, You work at night, and they don’t like it. But if you work at night, then during the day you don’t have to work. Dandy laughs. At first, his store was located nearby on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, where a Dunkin’ Donuts soon opened. As the Dunkin’ struggled to find its footing, its owner asked Dandy if he would agree to become the general manager. Dandy scoffed at the idea.
When a sandwich counter called Sub-Base went on sale, Dandy bought it, merging the two businesses; it has been on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road ever since. “Thanks to this work, I have had clients for 31 years now. Now they’re married, they have family, they have kids and they’re coming back,” Dandy says. “I love them.” He was successful enough that, by the time the pandemic hit, he employed three people and often filled special orders for nearby office workers. Today, only Dandy and his wife work at the counter in the morning; afternoon, and after taking a nap, Dandy returns and takes over for the rest of the day. He says he would struggle to keep up if customers started ordering in large quantities again. “I can’t handle the work,” he says. “I am the only one.”
Although he loves his job, the reality is that he can’t do it forever. “He said he got to a point where he was too tired,” says Long Tran, owner of Peachy Corners Cafe and a friend of Dandy, who is here in the middle of the night translating. Dandy is ready to sell the donut shop and retire. He received offers, but until recently he was particularly concerned about who would buy the company. “Protecting the name used to be really important to him, and he would hate for it to go away,” Tran says. “He would hate to see this way of making donuts, but he also understands that now may be the time. He’s getting too old, too tired to do that. Whoever buys it, says Dandy, will be happy to train it. He made peace with the fact that the new owner could put his name on it and not make the donuts by hand.
At 5:30 a.m., the sky takes on a light blue hue, traffic picks up, and most donuts are done. Right now they are stacked on a cart but will soon be on display behind the counter. Once they’re gone, that’s it for the day. In closing, Dandy talks about how grateful he is to Atlanta for 30 years in business, but says the end of the shop is near – there may not be much time left to enjoy his donuts. The seriousness passes, however, and the glint returns to Dandy’s eyes. Laughing, he said, “If I was a younger man, I’d open a second location on Peachtree Industrial and bankrupt Dunkin’.
Other Donuts Worth Your Time
House Park, North Druid Hills
Filled with custard (plain or mocha), chocolate glaze, and, for obvious reasons, an Atlanta icon
Hero donuts and buns
An import from Alabama, Hero has mastered the art of making yeast donuts that are light and airy and have a light flavor, like this cheerful and pretty creation in pink.
The petals of this gorgeous cinnamon spice donut aren’t just for decoration—they create an irresistibly steep shell concealing a pillow-soft interior.
Donuts & Coffee Revolution
Decatur, Inman Park
The pistachio crust adds a bit of crunch to the citrusy bouncy dough – a standout example of the types of yeast doughnuts that Revolution excels at.
Back to the World of Pastry!
This article originally appeared in our February 2022 issue.