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Unlikely duo set the bar for craft doughnuts

Unlikely duo set the bar for craft doughnuts

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

An engineer and an artist start a doughnut shop.

That pairing is so unexpected that it sounds like the setup to a punchline. But Rendezvous Doughnuts in Durango is no joke. Owner and founder Charlie Shew (Engineering, ’17) and brand manager Hayley Kirkman (Art, ’17) are having serious fun with the craft bakery they opened in late 2017.

“Food business isn't easy. Starting a business isn't easy. And growing a business isn't easy,” Shew says. “But it is one of the most rewarding things that I could have done.”

Fresh doughnut holes at Rendezvous DoughnutsRendezvous Doughnuts strives to make doughnuts a destination. Their oversized takes on these classic pastries are crafted with an emphasis on quality, local ingredients, with stand-out flavors like dark chocolate, sea-salted caramel with house-cured bacon, and fresh fruit sliders.

Shew and Kirkman designed the small restaurant, located downtown near the train station, to be inviting and cozy. There are games and puzzles on hand (thanks to Conundrum Escape Rooms, another local alumni-owned business). After participating in the 40th annual Snowdown this winter, Rendezvous already feels like an established mainstay on the Durango food scene.

But the doughnut shop didn’t start with such traditional success. In Spring 2017, while Shew was still an Engineering student, the doughnut shop idea was just that—an idea. He developed it and entered his strategy in the Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition at FLC.  After he did not win, he could have let his idea flounder after graduation and embarked on a traditional engineering career.

However, he had received mentorship on shaping his business plan during the competition that made him really believe in his idea, so he decided to pursue it.

An engineer finishing school and straight away opening a doughnut shop may seem on the surface to be a drastic change of direction. But Shew sees his path as a natural extension of his engineering background.

“Running a doughnut shop is a problem statement,” he says. “How could we do this? We could do it as a food truck. Are we going to do it as a kiosk? Are we going to do a full retail space? Then it comes to a point where you just have to do it. And you have to fail fast. That’s a motto that I carry very closely. If something doesn't work, you retract and you change and you move forward again. Even if it's one step back, you're going to take two steps forward the next time.”

Traditional frosted doughnut at Rendezvous DoughnutsShew also credits the group projects within the Engineering program with his ability to manage people in a business setting. “Through the design process, we would have a project manager. I was always that role on the team, because I sought it out and it was a role I feel like was one of my strengths,” he says. “The faculty allowed me to serve in those positions. I gained a certain level of confidence in how to lead and how to manage everyone’s needs: my needs, the team’s needs. This doesn't feel like my first rodeo managing things.”

However, Shew could not have pulled off Rendezvous alone. He says that the shop is greater than the sum of its doughnuts because of Kirkman’s work on the brand—everything from developing the company logo and producing advertising to managing a social media presence.

The two had worked together extensively at FLC, despite studying in such distinct departments. Both were highly involved in the Environmental Center, and each traveled abroad twice with the Village Aid Project. Shew took on leadership roles in the EC, and Kirkman produced new logos and other graphic design work for the organizations.

“Everything I was involved in that I believed in, the higher-ups of those organizations saw a need for her services,” Shew says. “That was a statement of our very different backgrounds adding value to a cause, and she did an incredible job. Those were Hayley’s portfolio.”

The doughnut shop ran into some logistical problems with the space that delayed its opening in the fall. But that didn’t deter Kirkman from building the brand even without an available product. Through social media, she led an advertising campaign that led to lines out the door for the first few weeks Rendezvous was finally open.

“Her expertise and skill level of graphic design turned this to a full-fledged business and a presence in the community,” Shew says. “The people who come in and say, wow, this experience of being in here is awesome. Your branding is awesome. Your presence on social media. Those are all credits to Hayley. It took her tact and the graphic design skill level and the awareness of other arenas beyond graphic design to help me through the growth and the start of this business.”

“I think we both really just want to problem solve,” Kirkman says. “And it's beautiful that two brains together could build this.”

Now that Rendezvous Doughnuts is establishing itself, Shew and Kirkman are proving that even the most unlikely pairings can lead to delicious outcomes and continued discoveries.

“I would say the Fort Lewis gave me the freedom to pursue seemingly unrelated things,” Shew says. “And there’s always things to learn, whether you’re a three-month-old business or you’re a long-time business in Durango. It never gets old.”

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