Before Tamara Monroe and Ryan MacDougall opened the all-vegan Lovebirds Donuts on Route 1 in Kittery in April, they figured they’d need to work hard to attract customers. They were wrong.

“We expected to have to find creative ways to build the business,” Monroe said. “But it was the opposite. We have to find creative ways to keep up.”

Lovebirds’ makes all its doughnuts — both cake-style and yeast-raised — from scratch every day in flavors that include Boston cream, apple fritter, chocolate glazed and fried dough. The shop also makes gluten-free doughnuts in a variety of flavors, including whoopie pie and strawberry lemonade.

“We obviously get a lot of vegans, as vegans are willing to travel for food,” said Monroe. “They do have these big emotional reactions at the register, saying, ‘I can have anything on the menu!’ We also have a lot of people from the local community who aren’t vegan but just really like good, scratch-made food. Another whole group (of customers) is people with allergies to gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts or peanuts. We have a dedicated gluten-free fryer that we’ve had tested. We get a lot of kids who’ve never been able to have dessert outside their house. We definitely get tourists in the summer.”

Monroe said she and MacDougall have been surprised by the special event business Lovebirds has attracted, with weddings keeping them busy every weekend through the end of fall. Lovebirds has made some doughnut wedding cakes but mostly supplies dozens upon dozens of doughnuts to fill tiered displays or doughnut walls, a cake alternative popular on Pinterest, Instagram and the local wedding circuit.

Across Maine, there’s been a recent uptick in businesses catering to the demand for vegan doughnuts. The Frinklepod Farm Store in Arundel sells the Lovebirds doughnuts on Saturdays. Vegan doughnuts can be found at the Gone Loco Cafe in Rumford, the Whole Grain Bakeshop in Brewer and Apple Acres Farm in Hiram, which sells the gluten-free, vegan doughnuts from The Coffee Joint in Cornish. Juice bar Nectar of Maine in Bridgton sells vegan doughnuts supplied by Peace of Mind Baking in New Hampshire, and the Sweet & Savory Bakehouse in Standish plans to add vegan doughnuts.

In Auburn, Break Coffee Shop opened last summer; all its doughnuts are baked and vegan.

“The reaction to the vegan doughnuts has been incredible,” owner Sadie Blais said. “It has really turned into the base of my business. Some days I go through 10 or 12 dozen.”

The pioneer of vegan doughnuts in Maine is Holy Donut, which now has two locations in Portland and a third in Scarborough. Holy Donut added vegan varieties in 2013, a year after opening its first shop. The three bakeries now sell roughly 500,000 vegan doughnuts each year, according to Jacob Eslinger, the company’s marketing manager.

All of the bakery’s roughly 20 rotating potato doughnut flavors can be made vegan, Eslinger said, except for anything with the maple or maple bacon glazes.

Eslinger said the vegan dough “is the first dough we make on all the equipment and the first doughnuts we fry in the morning to prevent any carryover of ingredients.”

Each Holy Donut bakery typically makes six vegan varieties, which change daily. Lemon is the most popular vegan flavor, said Eslinger, while “the cinnamon sugar is always a crowd pleaser.”

This spring, Portland’s longest-running doughnut shop, Tony’s Donut’s, experimented with vegan doughnuts after it obtained a sample bag of vegan doughnut mix from supplier Dawn Foods.

Tony’s Donuts dates to 1965 when it was opened by Antonio Fournier. Tony’s is now owned by his son, Rick Fournier, whose nephew, Tony DiPhillipo, runs the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck and often parks in front of the doughnut shop.

Fournier said the vegan doughnuts sold “better than we thought they would.” Unfortunately, for months he’s been having trouble getting the mix. Instead, the Tony’s team directs customers seeking vegan doughnuts to the shop’s line of cream horns and puff pastries, which are all vegan.

Could the mix’s backordered status be a reflection of the rising demand for vegan doughnuts? Monroe from Lovebirds notes that as part of the market research she and MacDougall carried out, they traveled the country visiting vegan doughnut shops. In large markets like Los Angeles she said they found “a ton of vegan doughnut options,” while in smaller cities they would find two or three shops selling them.

“Vegan doughnuts have been on the rise for a while, and it’s now reaching us here in Maine,” Monroe said. “It’s a very exciting time in the state and the country for vegans.”

And for everyone who loves good doughnuts.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila

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