Formerly a pastry chef at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and the Patisserie at the four-star Bazaar in Los Angeles, Waylynn Lucas left the world of fine dining to open the hip doughnut shop Fonuts in L.A. in the summer of 2011. Her goal was to reinvent the classic treat by using different methods of steaming and baking to replicate the texture of a doughnut, without frying, as well as offering lots of vegan and gluten-free options. She tells us how she’s finding success on her own terms.
Why did you decide to go off on your own and launch Fonuts?
A desire to create something from nothing, own my business, call my own shots, and be my own boss. I knew as a pastry chef you would always somehow ride the coat tails of whichever chef you were working for. Which, don’t get me wrong, is not a bad thing. However, for me, I am too strong spirited and creative. I also must admit I am not a fan of people telling me what to do!
How did you raise the money to launch Fonuts?
The idea and concept of Fonuts with my business partner, Nancy Truman, happened so fast. We initially were going to take our time, to find investors and build a name. However, almost immediately, we found a perfect space that required minimal build-out and work. I decided to use all of my savings, and my inheritance from my grandmother. It was a bold move, I know. We had to move fast to secure the location, and, just as much as I don’t like taking orders from anybody, I don’t like borrowing money either. So I was pleased to do it all on my own, and truly put everything into the business.
How was your new endeavor different from your fine dining experience? How was it similar?
Baked goods are at the other end of the spectrum of fine dining and plated desserts. They require some different techniques and styles, as well as many of the same: cooking is cooking. The hours were completely opposite, early mornings and days, compared to restaurant life, which was all day and all night, until midnight or later. At the end of the day, they both require the same skill-- and just making food taste good. My attention to detail and knowledge of complex flavors from fine dining have truly helped me with Fonuts. I will always take a meticulous approach to my craft, whatever I am making.
How did you find a following?
I was fortunate enough to have had a following from the various restaurants that I had worked at in L.A. Luckily, in this day and age, in a city like Los Angeles, the food scene has generated quite a buzz. People are really getting involved and getting to know the chefs behind their favorite restaurants. Food television, magazines, and blogs have made our world and the goings-on in the industry much more readily available, exciting and understandable to the public. With Fonuts, our following is based on our product and concept. People are excited that we offer a healthier and different 'donut' and baked good, along with the fact that we cater to those with food allergies and sensitivities. Providing gluten-free and vegan options has generated a following among that community. Making a great product has created a fan base, and loyal repeat customers.
Do you think Fonuts is something that is uniquely L.A.?
Not at all, however it does make sense for a city that is more health conscious like L.A. Healthier or not, our product is superior and tastes great, combined with a fresh new approach and concept. We have people all over the country who order Fonuts from us and tell us how excited they are about it. We’re pretty lucky.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue to grow, and create. We are always creating new recipes, and continuing to perfect our existing ones. We would love to open a few more locations outside of Los Angeles. We want to take it slow, and do it right. No matter what we do or how much we grow, it is of the utmost importance to maintain the integrity of our product, our vision and what we set forth to do from the beginning.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get experience, as much as you can, in any way, shape or form in your field. I may be a chef, but my firsthand experience as a dishwasher, busser, waitress, manager, etc. gave me the well rounded knowledge to run a restaurant and know the details of all the working parts. Ask questions: it is impossible for you to be an expert at everything, especially when it comes to owning your own business. You have to wear so many hats and do it all, so trust the experts and rely on the people who are professionals for help and advice for things that you are less experienced with. Maintain humility and never stop learning and challenging yourself.. Remember, it's not always about what you know—in fact, it’s mostly about what you don’t know. Don’t forget to have fun, and laugh at the small stuff. Owning your own business and starting something can be daunting, stressful and downright terrifying. You will inevitably make mistakes, so learn from them, and don’t take the smaller things too seriously.