Indie donuts rising
Milford shop bakes its own way
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
In a world full of chain donut shops, it is a treasure to find an independent one that makes its own. Donut Fresh Express in Milford is such a place. Each night the baker comes in to prepare the donuts, pastries and muffins so they are fresh for the next morning.
“He worked in California for a little over 20 years,” owner Lily Chao said. “He has his own technique. He bakes California style, with a lot of old-fashioned donuts. We have some donuts that Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t have.”
Chao and her partner, father-in-law Michael Chao, opened the shop almost four years ago. It was while employed as a software engineer that she first became interested in the restaurant industry.
“I was about to have my first child, and I wanted a job that was more flexible. Nine to five wasn’t working for me,” she said.
For three years, Chao owned a coffee shop in Brighton, Mass. It was profitable, but it was also a lot of work. She wanted something with a more serve-and-go style. Her cousin came to a boat shop in Milford and saw the empty restaurant (a former Taco Bell) just down the street. He told Chao about it, and she sold the coffee shop and bought the restaurant.
Chao was born in Cambodia, but her family is of Chinese heritage. She has been in the United States since she was seven years old, and she graduated from UMass-Lowell. Before the coffee shop, her only restaurant experience was working at Wendy’s to put herself through school. When she looked back at her move to restaurant ownership, she said, “I can’t believe I just went out and did it.”
Word of mouth has made Donut Fresh Express a popular place. Besides donuts, the muffins are a customer favorite — big, moist and baked in the morning, not the night before. The shop is also known for its breakfast sandwiches, which are available on English muffins, croissants or bagels and made with fresh eggs and a choice of bacon, sausage or ham. Chao noted, “We cook the eggs fresh from the shell. They’re not fake eggs that are frozen and thawed in a microwave.”
Chao serves New England coffees in seven different flavors, none of which are flavor shots, with the flavors roasted into the bean and freshly ground. She also has frozen coffee drinks and smoothies made with whole milk and fresh fruits. “We don’t use mixes or yogurt for our smoothies,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like the sour taste of yogurt.”
The business has grown so much that Chao plans to open a second location. For now, she comes in at 4 a.m., stays until noon, and enjoys the rest of the day with her three daughters, ages 10, 7 and 2.
“It’s good to be your own boss,” Chao said. “I can make my own schedule. If I have to leave, I don’t have to make up excuses. Sometimes I miss the professional work environment, but when you compare the two, this is better.”