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All I Knead

What do you get when you cross a bakery employee with an old family doughnut recipe? That's right-Doughnut Plant, a gourmet doughnut business.

Mark Isreal started his New York City business, which now boasts 27 clients and a storefront, in his apartment. Often, he'd work 24-hour days, with little profit to show for it. But lately it's down to 16 to 18 hours a day. (Days off are used to prepare for the next week, or to sleep, if time permits.) The latest pre-IPO hotshot? Nope. Isreal founded Doughnut Plant more than six years ago-and boy, if he only knew what he was getting into.

Isreal, 37, first tasted the product of his late grandfather's doughnut recipe while visiting his father in 1993. But doughnuts as a business never crossed his mind until the next year. Even then, the venture seemed more a blessing by the gods of serendipity.

After the weary wholesale bakery employee "spontaneously" approached a local coffee shop with his doughnuts, made with whole milk, organic flour and sugar, the manager bought them immediately. And in an hour, they were gone.

Due to the "flour everywhere" issue, Isreal moved his business into a tiny basement, where he fulfilled orders with New York gourmet food accounts like Balducci's and Dean & Deluca (which he approached sans appointment), and PBS filmed him toiling over dough for a New York food segment. And the press raved: New York magazine even honored him with "Best Doughnut in New York."

Isreal "did the most with what [he] had," like delivering on his bike, sporting front and rear baskets, for five years. But after some frustrating investment deals gone wrong, his brother David invested in Doughnut Plant in exchange for a 20 percent stake, affording Isreal his present 2,000-square-foot bakery/storefront and time-saving equipment.

Now Isreal counteracts ex-haustion with the pleasure of meeting long-time fans of his doughnuts (of which he and six employees produce 100 dozen daily). And since his last appearances on Martha Stewart Living and Emeril Live last May, traveling connoisseurs have even made extra stops to try one of 35 rotating flavors, like raspberry or pistachio, made with morning-fresh fruit and nuts.

"People deserve a high-quality product that tastes good," concludes Isreal. "I know it's just a doughnut, but people have responded to it because there's a lot of sincerity in what I do."

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