District Donuts, Sliders & Brew
Instead of creating a business and then trying to find a location, the owners of this new Garden District hotspot let the location speak to them.
When childhood friends Aaron Vogel, Chris Audler and Stephen Cali opened District Donuts, Sliders & Brew on October 15, 2013, it was a moment two and a half years in the making. Vogel and Audler worked together on the executive level at New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Co., but never imagined that they’d end up as co-owners of one of the Garden District’s most popular hotspots.
The idea for District and the path toward its genesis can only be described as organic. Vogel and Audler began with after-work conversations about their own personal aspirations and these conversations evolved into a concept they coined called Turn-Change. Which stands for, Turning Profits, Change Lives.
With Vogel’s background in non-profit work, the concept seemed to make sense. “Turning profits is extremely important in a business, but our goal was: how can we find avenues that we’re passionate about in regards to justice in our city and express that through giving,” he says. “It really wasn’t about a concept as much as it was about a passion to be certain types of people through business.”
The partners were soon joined by friend Stephen Cali, and started brainstorming restaurant concepts. In spite of their excitement, they decided to let the concept they chose find its way to them.
The idea for their restaurant evolved first with finding their space, and then building the concept around their location. The friends were driving down Magazine Street on a regular day, when they spotted a For Sale sign next to Stein’s Deli.
The space, a former 1,700-square-foot retail clothing store, was under construction and didn’t look like much, but it piqued their interest.
“We walked in and saw brick walls, concrete floors and high ceilings and we thought, ‘man, this is it right here.’” Vogel says. “And then we asked ourselves, from the concepts we had, what does our neighborhood need? And no one was doing specialty donuts and no one was headlining sliders, so we decided to do this donuts, sliders and brew concept.”
Developing a restaurant concept based on what was needed in the area seemed to work. Within a few weeks of opening, District was the talk of the town. Lines wrapped around the register and even now on busy mornings, customers have been known to wait over an hour for their craft brewed coffee and artisan specialty donuts with mind-blowing flavors like, Blueberry Cheesecake, Nutella, Maple Sriracha, and Salted Caramel to name a few.
Their desire to cook and bake in small batches makes it a challenge to meet demand quickly on busy days, with a staff of only 25 employees, but their commitment to quality is incredibly admirable and each slider and donut is worth the wait.
A meal at District is also incredibly affordable for the quality of product they produce. Each of their signature cheeseburger, fried chicken and vegetarian sliders are under four dollars and their specialty sliders generally remain under six dollars.
Still, a successful business venture is not without its challenges and for Vogel, Audler and Cali, the biggest ones have been time spent away from their families.
“We as owners were here 100-plus hours a week, seven days a week for a few months. So that was very difficult; physically draining, emotionally draining,” says Vogel. “We committed to do that from the jump because we wanted to create something very specific in terms of how this place felt, and the quality of food. I saw my kids when they came to visit me here because I was gone before they woke up and I was coming home after they went to bed for months.”
The partners were able to start their Turn-Change business venture with the help of an investor and an SBA loan from Gulf Coast Bank & Trust, with whom they’ve developed an incredible partnership. The bank has since gifted them a food truck, (coming soon!) which they will be using to generate profits donated exclusively to a non-profit organization called Crossroads NOLA. The organization works with the state and helps dramatically expedite the process of foster children connecting with foster families in New Orleans. “This is hopefully our first of many expressions of Turn-Change,” says Vogel.
As for how they keep their business competitive, Vogel says that they are their own biggest competitor.
“Our fiercest competitor is our self,” he says.
Being one of the only places in the area doing specialty donuts and gourmet sliders they are constantly working to exceed their customers’ expectations.
“We are always trying to stretch our creativity,” Vogel says.
District Donuts, Sliders & Brew is located at 2209 Magazine Street and open 7 Days a week 7am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, and 7am to 10pm Friday and Saturday.