Leslie Polizzotto

Co-Founder of The Doughnut Project

Leslie Polizzotto is the co-founder and owner of The Doughnut Project, a hand-crafted doughnut shop in New York City that takes inspiration from food and cocktails for their doughnut flavors. She is a former litigation attorney who took the leap from practicing law to become a business owner. She manages the daily operations and also the business side for The Doughnut Project.

Where did the idea for The Doughnut Project come from?

When my former business partner told me that he wanted to open a doughnut shop, I pulled out my phone and showed him all of the pictures of doughnuts I would take when doughnuts would be brought into the law firm where I worked and how happy doughnuts made me feel. A business opportunity had presented itself in a field I was very interested in (food!) and I was not very happy working as a litigation attorney, so I decided to help to make the doughnut shop a reality.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My shop is open Wednesday through Sunday. On those days, I am up and at the shop very early to help with doughnut production. Once the shop opens, I work the front of house serving coffee and doughnuts! We close and clean up and I then have emails, pre-orders to process, social media, etc. to take care of. On Mondays and Tuesdays when the shop is closed, handle payroll, accounts payable, emails, etc. I usually have a conference call with a partner about an upcoming project or collaboration.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When something sparks creativity in my mind, I immediately write down my thoughts on my I-phone. If the idea is about a doughnut, I then will discuss the idea with my team at the shop and we finalize a concept. My pastry chefs then create a mock-up which we taste and critique. Sometimes it is perfect, and other times the doughnut requires edits. Once the doughnut is finalized, I take pictures and post on Instagram to announce the doughnuts release date and duration.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend that has always amazed me that thankfully is still a trend is people taking pictures of food and posting them on Instagram. Although many people may think this is silly, Instagram is the life-line for the food industry and is one the reasons why my business has been successful. We have 141k followers on Instagram and that is how I communicate to our customers so they know what new flavors are being released and what our weekend specials are going to be.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am the most productive in the morning, so I am an early riser. I always have an alarm set and never hit the snooze button, even on days that I am not going to the shop. It is truly amazing what you can accomplish in a couple hours without any disruption. If you really need to get something done…wake up early and do it right away.

What advice would you give your younger self?

“Take chances!” I started working right out of high school with a great company and worked there for 19 years! I did not have the courage to move beyond that for a long time.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

You can eat a lot of doughnuts and still stay in shape! People ask me all the time if I actually eat my doughnuts, and of course I do…but I also work out a lot. We have many runners, cyclists and fitness customers from Cross Fit, Soul Cycle, etc. who visit our shop weekly. If you are going to eat a treat, it better be good. Our doughnuts are totally worth every calorie!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take Notes and Calendar everything. A business owner can be bombarded with a lot of information and details. Anything you can do to help keep track of information and details is critical to prevent things from falling into cracks!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Engaging in collaborations has been the best strategy to grow my business. Early on, we became known for making creative and unique doughnuts using non-traditional ingredients and also using alcohol in our doughnut flavors. This brought us a lot of press and media attention. That led to us getting approached by many alcohol and food brands to create custom doughnuts to promote a new product or to bring awareness to their brand. Many of the brands who approach us are represented by PR firms that have many connections to bring awareness to the collaboration. These PR firms will often get other clients of theirs to work with us too because the collaborations are such a success in terms of traction on social media. I can proudly say we have never paid one penny for marketing, advertising or PR.

We also do a unique doughnut each weekend called “The Weekend Special.” It is only sold Friday through Sunday and then it goes away. This doughnut can be one of our collaboration doughnuts or a flavor that we create if we do not have a collaboration lined up. This has proven to be a successful marketing strategy because our customers want to return every week to get the limited-edition doughnut.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I had as an entrepreneur was not speaking up to my business partner sooner about operational issues that were his responsibility. I did not want to be confrontational and would let things slide. I overcame this by begin more assertive. When issues arose, I would make notes about them and discuss my opinion on how to solve the issues in a weekly meeting away from the shop.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I am not sure that this has not been invented yet, but I would love an app that allowed you to order a private chef to come to your home and prepare a meal. You could select the cuisine, etc. and they would bring the ingredients and have the meal ready at the time you specified.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I subscribe to www.Bande.com a zoom fitness site ($180 per month). This allows me to take fitness classes in the privacy of my home but still have the feeling of being in a class with others. The instructors give real-time feedback and encouragement. Self-care, including fitness is very important to me and keeps me energized and motivated to run my business. Having this virtual option has been crucial during the pandemic. I do not really think I will need to travel to a physical studio again.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use QuickBooks software for accounting. I use Intuit for payroll. For productivity, my I-phone is critical. 90% of my business can be run on my I-phone.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight is an interesting read on the creation of the NIKE brand. I find it interesting to learn how brands get started and how challenging it is to create a lasting iconic brand.

What is your favorite quote?

“It’s never too late!” I definitely got a late start on a lot of things. I did not go to college until I was 29 years old, entered law school at 37 years old, and started my own business at 45 years old.

Key Learnings:

  • “It is never too late!” Leslie Polizzotto left a law career to become a business owner and opened a doughnut shop in New York City.
  • Collaborations and partnerships with other brands are a great way to grow your business.
  • If you really need to get something done, wake up early and do it right way. Do not hit your snooze button…ever.
  • Self Care is critical when you are a business owner.