Duel of the doughnuts: It's Frost vs. Top Pot in Mill Creek

By Amy Rolph, Herald Writer  Monday, August 10, 2009

Inspiration strikes Daniel Sterling in the middle of the night.His eyes snap open and he reaches for his iPhone.“So, we totally have to make a mint-chocolate doughnut,” he mumbles into the phone's voice recorder. Pacified, he drops the phone and goes back to sleep.That's the real story of how doughnuts end up in the glass bakery case at Frost Doughnuts at the Mill Creek Town Center.

Sterling is one of the shop's three owners, and the mastermind behind several of Frost's oh-my-gosh-inspiring confections. Think banana split fritters. Think smoked bacon maple bars.Sterling, along with longtime friends Paul Goetz and Del Hernandez, opened the shop on a Friday in July. They had to close their doors the following Monday to recuperate from a higher-than-expected demand.Frost was an escape plan for the three friends, who all live within walking distance of the Mill Creek Town Center.“We thought, what can we do to get us out of the corporate churn,” Sterling said. “We figured the Town Center was the place to do that.”Frost isn't alone at the Town Center. A Top Pot Doughnuts branch opened just a few days before Frost in the University Book Store one block away.

Sterling said Top Pot's move to the neighborhood was a surprise, but that he thinks his shop's decadent bent will help distinguish its product.Frost is an attempt to glamorize the doughnut, long synonymous with cops and coffee. The owners think they can tap into the cupcake craze that's swept through major cities lately, giving birth to high-end dessert stores such as Seattle's Trophy Cupcakes and Cupcake Royale.“The cupcake craze has taken off all over the country,” Sterling said late last month as he oversaw final touches to the store's brown-and-pink decor. “We thought, the cupcake is pretty simple. You can actually do more with a doughnut.”You can do things like peanut butter and jelly filling. And bourbon-caramel glaze.The three owners don't have a background in entrepreneurship — or in baking, for the most part. They're from marketing, real estate and accounting.

Sterling and Goetz met in high school 20-some years ago in Los Angeles, and they've known Hernandez for 12 years.Hernandez grew up working at his family's bakery and oversees the doughnut-making process in a small kitchen just behind Frost's counter.The trio financed Frost from savings without investor capital or business loans.Sterling admits his mother lost some sleep worrying about his sanity, especially given the battering small businesses have taken from the economy lately.That didn't stop Frost.“People need to see things opening,” Sterling said. “People are sick and tired of seeing businesses close.”