After months of planning and many more weeks of waiting on permits, contractors and the City of Houston's approval, the long-awaited Hugs & Donuts is finally open. The donut shop is the first full-time bricks-and-mortar joint from Jason Hill and Matt Opaleski, the team behind the H-Town StrEATs food truck and pop-up fried chicken concept The Bird House, which ended its successful run in the Heights this past January.
Hugs & Donuts
1901 N. Shepherd Dr.
It should be emphasized, however, that Hugs & Donuts is still in its soft-opening phase. This means that the donuts are free until Sunday, when the shop closes to prep for Monday—its official grand opening—but don't abuse the free donuts phase, folks. "It's for employee training," says Hill. It's not a free-for-all. That said, this holiday weekend will undoubtedly put the employees and the brand-new restaurant through its paces, so be patient if you do go. Remember: you're not allowed to complain about free donuts (although constructive criticism is another thing entirely).
Inside the shop, you'll find a glass case of refined standards: plain glazed, bear claws, apple fritters, donut holes skewered six-to-a-stick and glammed up with sprinkles. The morning I went, I was lucky enough to grab one of the remaining cake donuts—though in true Hill and Opaleski fashion, this isn't just a regular cake donut. "It's a birthday cake donut," Hill grinned, pointing to the crumbles on top. "That's crumbled-up birthday cake." Slightly crisp and delicately toasted, they made for a cheeky but welcome addition to the chocolate glaze that separated the cake crumbles from the cake donut itself.
You'll notice that all three of the tables in the small shop—which is roughly the size of its next-door neighbor, Fat Cat Creamery, in case you want to double-up on your sugar intake for the day—are in the shape of donuts, while a cheerful painting of a chocolate-and-sprinkle-dressed donut hangs on one wall. This was painted by Hill's wife, Amy, but it's not the only family touch in the place. Hill pointed to the old milk bottles repurposed as pendant lampshades. "These were from my family dairy," he says proudly. Still others were recovered from historic Star Dairy, the oldest in Galveston.
It's just donuts for now inside Hugs & Donuts, though Hill says they'll soon be offering kolaches as well. In the meantime, he and Opaleski are repurposing the H-Town StrEATs food truck into a new operation: Love Me Tender, which serves—you guessed it—chicken tenders. And yes, this means no more H-Town StrEATs's famous "shorty mac" sandwiches stuffed with beef short ribs and mac 'n' cheese. Hill is considering doing another Kickstarter like the one that helped finance Hugs & Donuts to help raise money for a new wrap for the old truck. "I'm thinking of doing 'golden tickets' for the shorty mac," he laughs. "Like, these will be the last 400 shorty macs in existence." Hill may be joking, but that Kickstarter campaign would be financed immediately (mostly by yours truly).
He hints, though, that even then it wouldn't be the last of the shorty mac—it could very easily show up in one of Hugs & Donut's kolaches. First things first, though, says Hill: "I've got a bunch of boudin back there." Look out Shipley—they're coming for you.