In addition to writing about culinary adventures in Motif, I lead guided food tours every weekend with RI Red Food Tours. We traverse the streets of downtown PVD, eating small bites from seven different restaurants, and one of our stops is Knead Doughnuts. At least once every tour, I hear the comment, “Wow! I’m not even a doughnut person, but these doughnuts are fantastic!”
We can argue about the sacrilegious nature of “not a doughnut eater” another time, but the point is that Knead Doughnuts are life changing. When RI Food Fights hosts their “Best Donuts of RI” challenge each year, Knead tops the list; in fact, they’re the only champion to have ever been deemed winner by both judges and the People’s Choice, the latter of which they’ve won annually since they opened in 2017.
And when it comes to gourmet doughnuts, made with local ingredients that taste fresh (that raspberry fritter is basically a fruit serving, right?), the people of RI cannot have too much of a good thing. On Saturday, May 25, Knead’s third retail location opened on the west side of PVD, in the historical Mechanical Fabric Mill at 55 Cromwell St. Only a few short months ago, this space — owned by Rooms & Works — was home to a food incubator called Pilotworks, through which some of our favorite businesses got their start: Hometown Poké, Whisk Me Away and Vic’s Hand-Crafted Ice Cream.
And now the three business partners who founded Knead, Adam Lastrina, Todd Mackey and Bryan Gibb, not only rescued the space to be their own production kitchen and retail outlet, but they revived it as a food incubator, inviting other businesses to use their commercial kitchens once again. It has been christened the Providence Kitchen Collaborative.
Currently there are eight businesses here, and Lastrina said there may be room for a couple more, but they want to keep it around this number. I noticed a true communal life vibe, particularly when I saw where each business had its own labeled shelving and refrigerator storage. “This gives everyone a sense of autonomy and ownership over the space,” Lastrina said, pointing at labels for Weenie Wizard and Brown Paper Bounty.
It didn’t hurt, either, that the kitchen itself was move-in ready, from state-of-the-art hoods to spatulas that were left behind. Not only that, the layout was particularly conducive to doughnut making. “It’s as if they’d built it just for us,” Lastrina said, speaking of how one room flows right into another: from proofing in a room with a mixer large enough to fit a full-grown human, to frying in one of the many fryers, to glazing in the finishing room: a windowed room through which patrons can observe artisans putting the final touches on their product.
When I walked in on Saturday morning, I immediately felt at home — the classic Knead menu board; the display case with rows of my dearly beloved brown butter pecan brioche and chocolate chip old fashioneds; even Gabe, the cheerful employee who seems to be at every location when I’m there — but it was also unique. Unlike downcity, where there’s a gilded, grandiose vibe, or the East Side, where it’s flowery and colorful, here there’s a clear industrial, antique aesthetic; the wooden beams of the display case are a rainbow of chipping colors, from sea foam greens to pastel pinks and baby blues. The cream and sugar station sits atop a weathered metal vault, reading “American Display Co, Inc” in gold letters. The exposed brick walls are painted white above the waist and blue below. And with so many windows, the space is full of natural light, which invites people to sit down with a cup of coffee and a doughnut (or several).
The innovation doesn’t end with just a new retail location, however. Both Lastrina and Victoria Young, of Vic’s ice cream, hinted about an ice cream donut sandwich, premiering on June 7 for National Doughnut Day. Young has also been creating Knead-inspired ice cream flavors, such as Brown Butter Pecan and Raspberry Fritter, which you’ll be able to purchase by the pint. I have three words: SIGN. ME. UP.
The Providence Kitchen Collaborate is not the only reason to visit this neighborhood; next door is Long Live Beerworks and another top secret spot that I invite you to do some sleuthing to discover. On Friday nights, Lastrina hopes to open a “doughnut window,” inspired by Back Door Donuts on Martha’s Vineyard, where people can come to the back window and order from a selected menu. “There’s nothing better than a freshly made, warm vanilla glazed doughnut,” Lastrina tells me wistfully. We peer out the back window onto the patio and imagine a bustling summer night, a line at the window for doughnuts, the tables and chairs full of folks grabbing dessert with drinks from next door.
“I agree,” I say, and I can’t wait for this vision to become a reality.
55 Cromwell St. (Saturday and Sunday, 8am – 3pm)
32 Custom House Rd. (8am – 3pm daily)
135 Elmgrove Ave in Providence (8am – 3pm daily)