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Rolling in the dough

Donuts Delite has been creating round pastries for decades

Walking into Donuts Delite on Culver Road in Rochester feels like entering an old-fashioned donut shop, the type where customers sit in red vinyl booths, catching up on the daily newspaper while enjoying cream-filled éclairs on porcelain plates accompanied by a steaming cup of coffee, rather than adhering to the grab-and-go mentality of modern diners.

Despite the 1950s styling and décor, a quick look at the shining case of fresh donuts suggests this is no old-fashioned menu. Rotating daily specials include s’mores donuts piled high with marshmallow crème and crumbled graham crackers or maple bacon donuts covered in tiny bits of crunchy pork goodness. There’s even a strawberry donut sprinkled with salt-and-vinegar potato chips, a flavor debuted during a recent Donuts Delite appearance on the Cooking Channel’s Donut Showdown.

“People want that feeling [of enjoying donuts] they had when they were young, but they want it in a modern way,” says Nick Semeraro, owner of Donuts Delite. Semararo has operated Donuts Delite for three years, and he is the second owner since Salvatore’s Old-Fashioned Pizzeria purchased the historic shop in 2009. With the exception of a five-year closure, Donuts Delite has been baking fresh sweet treats daily in the Culver Road location since 1958. The shop started with Jim Malley, whose ancestors trace their baking heritage back to the 1860s. Semararo grew up slinging pizzas for Salvatore’s, but he developed a love for the nostalgia of the shop and the science of baking when he moved to the Donuts Delite location as general manager several years ago. “I love the stories,” he says.“Every day, somebody will come in here and say they remember growing up and coming here—being able to reproduce that feeling for them makes it all worthwhile.”

While Semararo and his team of nine bakers produce many of the original Malley family recipes daily (including buttermilk, danish delights, apple fritters, fried cakes, and dunkers), Donuts Delite is also on the cutting edge of culinary creation. They were the first in town to produce the cannoli donut, a heavenly blend of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips stuffed in a soft donut dusted with powdered sugar. “It’s like a modern cannoli with an old-fashioned way of making it,” says Semararo, adding it’s the shop’s most popular donut. “We don’t forget where we came from. The Malley family is involved in all that we do—they even come in once or twice a week to test the donuts, which we encourage.”

When the Cooking Channel, a Toronto-based network, selected Donuts Delite to compete on Donut Showdown earlier this year, Semararo was thrown into a thirty-minute competition where three donut makers are paired head-to-head to create tasty and innovative donuts. Despite a heroic personal victory to create a donut using salt-and-vinegar potato chips (compounded by several dough malfunctions and a time crunch), he was eliminated in the first round. “It just wasn’t our day,” he says. “It was a tremendous amount of pressure, and I’m a behind-the-scenes type of guy. We were able to pull it off because of the sheer passion of what we do.” Following the taping, Semararo and his team perfected the donut flavor, selling it in the shop to rave reviews. “At the end of the day, my main judge is the customers,” he says.

During the holiday season, the customers come out in droves for twenty-eight varieties of holiday donuts featuring seasonal flavors, fillings, shapes, and decorations such as a foot-long Christmas tree donut decorated meticulously by pastry chefs. “We are all about breaking the mold, but we will never be commercialized,” says Semararo, who dreams of Donuts Delite expanding to other locations in the future. “We’ll never forget who we are—fresh ingredients from local people made right here in Rochester.”

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Michelle Shippers is a Rochester-area freelance writer who always goes for the sweets first at any brunch. 

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