Shift Drinks: Leigh Kellis


Leigh Kellis is the owner of and mastermind behind The Holy Donut, which has two locations in Portland, Maine. She is pictured here with a "perfect" Margarita.

Why did you select a margarita?

First and foremost, I find that tequila doesn't make me tired. After being in this business for a few years, I was finding that I needed the energy because of the early mornings. We're still in the business building phase, which is a twenty-four/seven schedule. I look forward to a glass of wine or beverage every single day of my life and I am not ashamed of that, but I find that wine makes me sleepy and I would get tired too early. I find that tequila is a little more enlivening than wine.

And depending who you are, tequila can be a relatively healthier alternative to the hospitality industry's other pick-me-up, so that's good.

Which is that?

I have heard, let's say, that it's cocaine.

Yeah, no. [Laughs] I have never done it. I eat donuts and drink coffee and alcohol and that's enough vices for me. I don't do drugs.

Whenever I go into your places, there is a full line, sometimes extending out the door. What is it about what you do that people are responding to?

That's a really good question. I have been trying to figure it out for a couple of years. We have had a spectacular reception to this business. I don't take that for granted. I am grateful for literally every person who comes through the line. I realize that this might not last forever. Yes, we have a good product, but there is also something very quirky about this place and I know that. This is not modern. We do not have cutting edge architecture in here. We have old tables and my friend's art is on the walls. My dad built the tables. It is completely quirky. I think people are receptive to that. We are friendly, we play good music, it is a family business and the food tastes good. That is not something I want to lose in replication when opening multiple locations.

But it certainly extends to the product, which is transcendent. We had the guys from Quoddy shoes in our studio and so we had your donuts there for them to munch on. They were ecstatic. They insisted on taking Instagram shots juxtaposed against the Holy Donut box.

It is amazing. It blows my mind. It is still amazing when people say they heard about us wherever and that they're going to come and see us when they come to Maine. What is it about a donut shop? I think people associate it with their grandmothers, or something about their lives that is not treacherous. It is positive.

When I was a kid, I used to go to shops like this when I would visit my family in Massachusetts. Even the corporate shops were more like this back then, with bigger donuts. Then they all went through a couple decades of downsizing and private equity buyouts and the products and shops themselves suffered. Yours is an alternative to the corporate donut.

You talked a lot about perfection when we talked beforehand. You asked for a perfect margarita and you said that you aspire toward perfection. Why is that something that is important to you?

Anybody can come and open a donut shop in this town and they probably will. I feel like you have to stay right on the ball with your product in this town. If it slips even a little bit, people love to tell you. I have worked at so many restaurants in my life. I started at 15 and pretty much have always been in the hospitality industry. I am 39, so it has been 24 years. People love to complain, but fortunately we get mostly positive responses. And it is kind of hard to screw up a donut completely, so we have that on our side. But I don't give anyone fodder. I want to keep it delicious and always improving.