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Coffee shop workers laid off during COVID-19 start 'Pandemic Donuts'

Two Denver service industry veterans were laid off because of COVID-19. They turned that hardship into motivation to open Pandemic Donuts

DENVER — After one last hurrah on St. Patrick's Day, the coffee shop where Gabrielle Henning and Michael Milton worked closed down because of COVID-19. 

A week and a half later, they opened their own business.

"Woke up the next day and started Pandemic Donuts on Instagram and hit the ground running from there," Milton said. 

Pandemic Donuts took off. The pair said they shifted from taking orders through Instagram messages to on a website in less than a week. 

"The first day we were really surprised we got a couple dozen, like wow this is pretty cool, we could do this every day," Milton said. "And by the second and third day we were selling out into the future." 

Their donuts go on sale Tuesday mornings, and they've been selling out within hours. Deliveries to select Denver zip codes go out the rest of the week.

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"We’re making the most we can out of our home kitchen," Henning said.

Their cottage operation is getting cramped, though. The business is becoming so popular that they're looking to move into a bigger kitchen.

"We’ve had to be really creative with our dinners and the food we eat because our fridge is just full of eggs and milk and sour cream and butter," Milton said.

Despite the success, they know workers across the state are still hurting from COVID-19-forced layoffs. Henning and Milton said they hope that as Pandemic Donuts grows, they'll be able to hire more unemployed service industry workers.

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"It feels selfish in a way right now, but if we could really get it going we could help so many more people," Milton said. "It would be really cool and feel good." 

They said they want to help front-line workers, too. So, once a week, they donate to hospitals. Merchandise will soon be available to purchase on their website, and 100% of the proceeds will go to charities that support hospital workers and first responders.

Ultimately, Milton and Henning said they dream of opening a brick-and-mortar shop and bringing coffee back into the fold. 

But that will have to wait until the pandemic is over, and their on-the-nose branding is just a reminder of the trials that pushed them into the donut business. 

"With that name, people will know why we started and there’s a story behind that name," Henning said.

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You can order donuts by clicking here.

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