It’s been a year since a tiny doughnut shop just off Circuit Avenue caught the eyes of three bigtime Boston-based business czars. Seasonal residents Richard Friedman and Patrick Lyons and year-rounder David Ginsberg just couldn’t resist the warm, gooey, glazed promise of Back Door Donuts.
“It’s like a little jewel box,” said Lyons of the beloved Oak Bluffs bakery. “It’s not often that you have the opportunity to become a steward for something so special.”
Previous owners Janice Casey and Rita Brown sold the business last February, after 17 years. Under new ownership, the first intent was to “not goof it up,” Lyons said. Lyons owns a number of popular nightclubs and restaurants in Boston, Friedman is a real estate developer and owner of the Charles and Liberty hotels, and Ginsberg is the vice chairman of the Boston Red Sox, and the Liverpool Football Club.
“What we wanted to do in our first year was really learn it and understand it,” Lyons added. So the three businessmen didn’t change much, but they did ask for feedback from their loyal clientele — a mix of locals and visitors.
“We realized we needed to be able to serve people their coffee quicker,” Lyons said of the “front door,” which was previously known as Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery. “A lot of things were also old and not working.” These days, by the way, it’s Back Door Donuts, front and back, night and day.
The team invested in a fresh look — new countertops, coffee equipment, an oven, a paint job, and merchandise. They hired local architect Chuck Sullivan to spearhead the renovations. They’re also enhancing their coffee and beverage program.
“People really loved the La Colombe brand of coffee we served last year,” Lyons said. “So we’ll stick with that.” They’re also adding cold-brew on tap, and invested in new general manager Kathy Kiley to ensure everything runs like a well-oiled machine. Kiley is a longtime Vineyard resident, a private chef, and former employee for the Edgartown board of health.
“Our objective is to make the business run as smooth, clean, and efficient as possible,” Lyons said. “We’re pretty excited about the job Chuck did. And Kathy is a star.”
Longtime pastry chef Raffi Jabri will stay on, and manager Josh Biren is back for his second season. “Josh is also working on our social media,” Lyons said, “which we’re developing.”
Lyons said they’re not making any changes to the back door — or what he calls “sacred ground.: “We just vowed to double down and increase staff training for a more efficient and pleasant experience, without changing the essence of what Back Door Donuts is,” he said.
Back Door Donuts has also expanded to catering. “We did a lot of that last year, and we’re planning to do more,” Lyons said. “A lot of people are interested in having Back Door Donuts at their events. The notion of having apple fritters at your wedding is a natural.”
As far as bringing the iconic brand elsewhere — Boston, perhaps? — Lyons said, “After one year, I can say that remains a work in progress. We’ve still got our eyes on Circuit Avenue. We’re trying to make this one as good as it can be. God knows we all have enough on our plates.”
Lyons said he handles most of the operational aspects of the business, Friedman manages “the big picture,” and Ginsberg conducts the finances and economics. “We try not to get in each other’s way,” he laughed.
“It’s the first time the three of us have worked together on something bigger than a dinner party or a big clambake,” Lyons said. “It’s been good fun.”
*Updated to correct Ginsberg’s Vineyard residency.