Go Eat! With doughnuts driving the bus, everything changed

Go Eat! With doughnuts driving the bus, everything changed
Photo: Spike Mafford

SEATTLE - You probably know the name, but do you know the story behind Top Pot doughnuts?

"We didn't even know what we were doing at first. It was kind of a disaster in the beginning," explains Top Pot co-founder Mark Klebeck.

He says it all started one fateful morning back in the late 90s when his brother was opening his coffee shop, Zeitgeist, in Pioneer Square.

"This one particular Monday they couldn't get pastries from a certain vendor, so they would go out and just pick up a dozen doughnuts at one of the local shops, put them in the case, and they were the first things that would go."

Mark Klebeck

Mark says that's when he, his brother Michael and another partner, Joel Radin, got the idea to open a second Zeitgeist coffee shop on Capitol Hill that showcased handmade doughnuts.

"But then we just realized that doughnuts are really driving the bus for us; it wasn't so much about the coffee."

How did they know how to make doughnuts?

"We didn't. We read a lot of books," laughs Mark.

The name Top Pot is a story all its own.

"We had this little neon sign that was taken from this Chinese restaurant in the Rainier Valley and it was called Top Spot. We put the sign in the back of my brother Michael's truck and as we were driving down I-5 the "S" blew off on the sign on the freeway and we were left with Top Pot."

The Capitol Hill shop, which opened in 2002, was quickly followed by ones in Downtown Seattle, Wedgewood, Queen Anne and, most recently, Bellevue.

"We get calls left and right for people wanting to put us in different areas whether it's a big strip mall or some gigantic building. In a lot of ways, it's flattering, but at the same time, I think you really have to take stock on what it is within your own business model that makes you successful and sometimes less is more."

"Less is more" isn't exactly the motto of Howard Schultz, who, after stopping into the downtown Top Pot back in 2003, decided to put the doughnuts into his Starbucks stores.

"Gina, who was our manager at the time, called me up and said, 'You'll never guess who walked in,' and I said, 'Who? Eddie Vedder?'"

The doughnuts are now available in more than 7,500 Starbucks across the country and Canada.

"We're producing approximately a million doughnuts a week throughout the two countries. It blows me away."

So, what makes Top Pot doughnuts so good?

"They're handmade. We call them the hand-forged doughnut; there's just a lot of care that goes into them."

Places Mark likes to Go Eat!: Machiavelli Ristorante

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