Pamela Poncelin is shuffling behind the bakery counter, busily preparing her artisan donuts for online delivery orders and the people periodically entering the shop. Her hair is pulled up in a high ponytail with several loose pieces framing her kind face, and I am struck by how generously she offers her time to answer my questions while also expertly tending to customer service. She is clearly in her element as she simultaneously manages to converse with me, rustle up orders, and interact with people entering the store. For me, the environment is rather chaotic, but the subject of my interview is unfazed.
Pamela is the owner of Dough Girls, a women-owned gourmet donut shop a two minute walk from the Nørreport metro station. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my status as an American studying abroad, I had never heard of it until my flatmate recommended it as a shop that sells the ever-elusive vegan donut. Veganism, for me, is a lifestyle I embrace for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. In high school, I became determined to drastically alter my eating habits once I learned about factory farming and the joys of plant based cooking. I made the transition from pescatarian to vegan overnight. Five years later, the appeal of a vegan donut, a delicacy I rarely have the chance to indulge in, is an enticing prospect.
Upon a first survey of the shop, what stands out to me is the hipster interior design, accentuated by pastel rose walls and charming red-tinted heart lamps dangling from the ceiling. The addictive, inviting scent of glazed donuts floats in the air. I relate to Pamela my gratitude for her thoughtful curation of the donuts she sells, noting how the vegan options drew me into her store in the first place. Of her twelve donut varieties, six are vegan. Various flavors sit invitingly in the glass display case, mouthwatering creations labeled with a small green leaf to indicate their plant based ingredients.
“We try to make sure we have something for everybody, so that as many people as possible can eat our donuts.”
Pamela tells me that selling vegan items in her shop was a no-brainer. “We noticed,” she recalls, “that veganism is a huge trend and the way the world is going. And we’re really conscious of being as sustainable as possible, so of course we needed to have plant alternatives.” Inclusivity for people who abstain from consuming animal products or gluten is a priority for her business, and she affirms that “We try to make sure we have something for everybody, so that as many people as possible can eat our donuts.” She lets me in on a secret: though not vegan herself, she actually prefers her plant-based dough, which she appreciates for the natural sweetness it somehow boasts.
It means a lot to me that an otherwise normal donut shop would sell vegan products, loved and promoted by the owner just as much as the traditional pastries made from eggs, milk, and butter. Flax eggs, oat-based cream, and non-dairy butter dominate the repertoire of ingredients used at Dough Girls, and these components are sourced both locally and globally. From Tanzania, she told me, the bakery obtains its vanilla. Their flour, on the other hand, comes from a local wheat mill not too far away. Clearly, the thought that goes into procuring these baking items reflects the care that is put into making such a variety of donuts. “There are only seven ingredients in our standard recipe, as opposed to the sixteen you might find elsewhere,” Pamela points out. In other words, quality over quantity.
As I speak with Pamela, the cadence of her affable voice hints that her country of origin is not Denmark. She is Australian, it turns out. Her German parents immigrated to Australia in the 1980s. Soon after they arrived, they opened a German-style bakery that they owned for almost twenty years. “I was two years old when they started it, so I literally grew up in the bakery,” she informs me, and I begin to understand where her love and expertise for baking originated.
So how did a German-style bakery in Australia inspire a donut shop in Copenhagen like Dough Girls? Well, according to Pamela, it is a long story. She and her husband visited Denmark eight years ago on vacation and immediately fell in love with the country. She was living in Paris at the time, but it was not her cup of tea––she did not feel the culture and language suited her. Consequently, she and her husband decided to move to Copenhagen. “My nuclear family has now been here for three years as of yesterday!” she exuberantly reports.
Her sisters and parents have not been in Denmark for quite as long, however. Her parents, skilled bakers already, were not yet ready to retire; they and her two sisters were interested in realizing Pamela’s dream to open a bakery. “I told them [my family], ‘I have this really great idea.’ I’d lived in London before Paris and appreciated its selection of artisanal donuts. But in Copenhagen, I couldn’t find anything except at Dunkin’ Donuts.” Pamela’s solution? Fill this vacancy in the city! “I thought, we know dough, we know bread, we know the bakery industry, so why not take advantage of a situation where we can use our skills and find a niche to produce handmade, artisanal, organic donuts. There aren’t tons of bakeries specializing in donuts here. So, my parents and family agreed to do it together.”
Impressively, Pamela’s parents do the baking every day. Her two sisters work in the shop as well. It is a family-owned business through and through. The work is laborious and time intensive, but her family does not shy away from it. Dough Girls is unique in that every single item––every custard, jam, and coating––is made from scratch. The donuts themselves are handcrafted and gorgeously decorated, positioned temptingly in the storefront’s windows.
“I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years. But it always came back to food. Food is what I dream of––I’m always thinking about my next meal.”
It does not take much guesswork to discern that Pamela is immensely passionate about her craft. I hear it in the enthusiastic way she articulates her responses to me and the manner in which she expresses her love for food. When I ask her if she has always been in the food business, she admits that for the most part she has been. “I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years,” she explains. “But it always came back to food. Food is what I dream of––I’m always thinking about my next meal.” She confides, “I wanted my own business my whole life basically, but most seriously in the last ten years. It was always going to be something in food.”
As a foodie myself, I can relate to Pamela’s passion. What I am especially in awe of, though, is her expertise as a business owner, recipe curator, and customer service maven. She brings energy and optimism to her work, and this is visible in both her outwardly bubbly personality and the remarkable feats that Dough Girls has accomplished. Truthfully, I attribute much of Pamela’s success to her tenacity and determination. Such characteristics were crucial when the shop was faced with an enormous challenge within two weeks of its opening in March of 2020. Resilience is key to surviving any normal drought of customers and income––but imagine the effort it takes to keep a business afloat when a pandemic puts most of the stores in a street, neighborhood, and city out of commission.
So how is Dough Girls a thriving, popular donut shop a full year later? The answer is quite simple: Pamela never gave up. “Challenge accepted!” was her mentality, she told me, when the government would not provide a single cent for lost revenue, and when her landlord urged her to close down. The outcome was better than expected. Soldiering on despite the financial risk benefitted the shop because it was one of the only businesses open. Pamela laughs, and half-jokingly grants, “People had no choice but to come to us, and that helped us build solidarity in the community and amongst other business owners as well. We built up a loyalty among people who acknowledged that we were staying open for them as well as for ourselves.”
This commitment to her patrons is something that stands out to me. The interactions I witness between Pamela and her customers only reinforce this fact. “I genuinely like customer service,” she confesses. “The conditions we put up with such as long hours, terrible industry pay, dealing with difficult customers––it’s not as easy as what people think it is. But I genuinely like it.” As if on cue, several patrons waltz through the door. Conversing with the shoppers comes naturally to Pamela. I admire the ease with which she tends to their needs, inquires about their day, and puts together their orders with an unrushed, yet brisk efficiency that is truly a hallmark of quality customer service.
“Seeing someone eat one of our donuts and say that it’s the best donut of their life goes straight to the heart.”
Yet Pamela’s phenomenal job at providing her customers with a pleasing donut shopping experience is not at all insincere or calculated. She contends that if it were not for the joy of witnessing customers fall in love with the delicious taste of her products, she would not be in business. Her motions become more animated; her voice even more jovial as she conveys how elated it makes her to watch people sample the donuts. “Seeing someone eat one of our donuts and say that it’s the best donut of their life goes straight to the heart,” she exclaims. “Then, in the kitchen, I’m like ‘Look guys! This is what we do this for. This is why you get up at 4 a.m., come in every morning, and work your ass off. It’s for the people who say this is the best donut they’ve ever had.” That is testimony to dedication for customer satisfaction if there ever was one.
“Well, I have to say these are the best donuts I have tasted, vegan or not” I praise. She beams at my confession, thanking me for the compliment. I suddenly become aware of the time. The twenty-minute window she was free for has elapsed by several minutes, and the last thing I want to do is hold up her day. Luckily, my most pressing questions have been answered––I know about Pamela’s take on veganism, her move from Australia to Denmark, the inspiration for Dough Girls, her passion for food and customer service, and her extreme resilience throughout the pandemic. I purchase a box of the vegan donut variety to bring home to my flatmates before thanking Pamela for her precious time and bidding farewell.
My teeth sink into the cherry ripe donut, airy pastry hitting my tastebuds followed by the tart yet sweet fruit filling. As I chew, I glance at my friends, all closing their eyes and blissfully savoring their donuts, an array of cinnamon sugar, raspberry, banana split, and almond flavors being sampled for the first time. Once we finish that initial bite, I am the first to share my opinion. “This is the best vegan pastry I’ve ever had!” I exclaim, reaching across the table and eagerly slicing myself another quarter of the pastry with the kitchen paring knife. Each individual praises their own, too, and for a brief moment, everyone relishes their vegan desserts from Dough Girls in satisfied silence. I can only imagine Pamela’s delight if she could witness this scene.
I could not be more pleased with my discovery of Dough Girls. I am inspired from talking with Pamela, who I have come to regard as a powerhouse of a business owner guided by tenets of empowerment and inclusivity. To hear how she harnessed a passion of hers and turned it into a successful and lucrative business in the face of mounting challenges from the get-go is heartening, to say the least. At her core, I believe that Pamela is passionate, and on a mission to make an inclusive variety of handcrafted baked goods that make people happy. There is no question that Pamela’s business is one of a kind and presently flourishing, and now that I know the story behind it, I would not expect anything less.
*I wrote this piece for my Travel Writing class. We were asked to find a location in Copenhagen and try to capture “the spirit of the place.” My discovery of Dough Girls was a fortuitous one, based on a recommendation by my flatmate (thank you, Caroline!).