Those queues you often see at the Queen Victoria Market lead to one of Melbourne’s best-loved treats – a sugar-coated, jam-filled delight of a doughnut produced by the same families for more than 70 years.
The American Doughnut Kitchen was recently recognised in the Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards, in the 40+ years category. Julie Boening is the daughter of one of its founders and brings its history to life with her warm memories of time spent bagging up doughnuts.
“My father would be absolutely amazed to think the business has thrived for so long. To be recognised by the award means a lot to me,” she said.
History is important to Julie, having lost her father some years ago.
“My father Arnold Bridges and Dave Christie went to school together, lived a street apart and originally in the 1940s they started a wood yard. Then they had the opportunity to buy the business which they renamed American Doughnut Kitchen.”
From 1950, the partners began producing the first of many millions of kilograms of dough. They customised two mobile kitchen vans – one uses the chassis of an REO Speed Wagon, the other a Dodge Fargo bus. The eye-catching vintage logo remains one of the market’s best-known features.
Julie started working at 12 years old, helping on the busy Saturdays.
“We’d start early, 5 or 6 o’clock, and help dad here in the market. The market closed at precisely 1pm in those days, and in football season we’d drive to the MCG and would work there.
“We’d prepare before half time when the crowd came out. We’d cook the doughnuts, bag them, then stack them up so they’d be ready for people at half time.
“Dad also travelled around to the agricultural shows and we worked Warrnambool races, did the Sunbury music festival. We worked at Moomba and at the Royal Exhibition Building, going to all the garden shows, the motor shows. When we stopped doing the football, the time came to stay put at the market.”
She estimates the most doughnuts sold in a single day would amount to a whopping 500 kilograms of dough. Now it’s almost impossible to imagine the market without the doughnut kitchen handing out bags of sweetness to locals, tourists, even medical staff who nip down from the hospitals precinct to stock up.
Asked about their enduring appeal, Julie says: “It’s the smell that gets everybody in. The doughnuts are made fresh every day, they’re made from dough so they have to prove overnight. I think the vintage van is the attraction too.
“Lots of people come for the theatrics. Early in the morning people stand outside and watch the staff rolling the dough and cutting it out by hand. Once cooked, the doughnuts get turned into a tray. Jam is put in using a hand-pumped machine, then they’re put in the sugar bowl to coat them nicely.”
The doughnuts’ fame has spread far and wide. Tourists come from all over the world and film the experience on their phones and take photos, Julie said. Many well-known people have been spotted in the queue too. Julie recalls seeing Jack Klugman, Dame Maggie Smith and Jacki Weaver stopping by for a world-beating doughnut.
“It used to be just word of mouth. Now we extend beyond that. It’s social media and the website. Then we have all the generations of customers and more, those who came here with their parents and keep the tradition going with their own families. Children who didn’t want to come to the market to do the shopping with their parents might have whinged and moaned about it, but they would get told ‘you can have a doughnut at the very end of it’ and that was their excitement.”
The team still has those very early starts on weekends and special holidays. Christmas Eve is “chaotic”, Julie said. “It’s a 4am start. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like. Usually summer is our quiet period but at Christmas, people come in for their meat, poultry and fish shopping and the last thing they do at the market is come to us.”
Find Julie serving up the sugary fried delights at the American Doughnut Kitchen in F Shed at Queen Victoria Market from Tuesday to Sunday. Visit before 2pm to ensure you don’t miss out.
About the Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards
Melbourne is full of fantastic small business success stories.
We celebrate the people behind inner-city businesses that have stood the test of time with our Lord Mayor’s Small Business Achievement Awards.
Among the recipients are legends who have been in business in the city for 10+, 20+ and 40+ years. We also name a Small Business of the Year and Small Business Innovation Award.
You can learn more about all the amazing businesses we’ve honoured over the years at Small Business Awards.