zewiditu-ruffin-of-cloudy-donut-co.-talks-about-her-pride-in-bringing-vegan-donuts-and-a-black-owned-business-to-‘toney’-brooklyn-heights

Zewiditu Ruffin Of Cloudy Donut Co. Talks About Her Pride In Bringing Vegan Donuts And A Black-Owned Business To ‘Toney’ Brooklyn Heights

How did you become involved in Cloudy Donut Co.?

Cloud Donut was started by my partner, Derrick Faulcon, who is the CEO and founder of the company. After four years of teaching, I joined the brand in 2021. I started in social media, and I’ve since grown into all types of things for the brand, from partnership outreach, to press media, and a lot of the other forward-facing things. More recently, I run the new store we just opened in Nolita, and I still manage the front of the house in Brooklyn. 

The two original locations are in Baltimore. What brought you guys to New York? 

We knew that we wanted to be in New York because we always wanted to go to a larger market. We did quite a bit of research and visited the areas of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and similar areas a few months before we ended up finding our space in Brooklyn Heights. 

New York can be a tough market. How have you found it?

Derrick is from Baltimore, and I’m from D.C. I earned my undergraduate degree from The New School in Manhattan, so I’m familiar with the city as I lived here for ten years. Derrick lived in California. People might think, you know, coming from Maryland, that we’re kind of green and don’t really know the market, but Derrick’s been in food and beverage for over 10 years – he opened his restaurant, Home Maid, in 2014 – and we were already familiar with the landscape. We’ve moved very quickly in a year and a half with all of our partnerships and our expansion, because we’re really passionate about building quality brands and luxury service so we just hit the pavement and we’ve been moving ever since. 

When you took the space in Brooklyn Heights, did you realize you would be the first Black-owned food business in the neighborhood?

All of Derrick’s businesses in Baltimore are in affluent neighborhoods, so we were aware of the demographics in Brooklyn Heights. That was on purpose, but it was not intentional for us to be the first Black-owned food business in the neighborhood. We opened in Brooklyn Heights because this is a beautiful area. It is filled with community, and that’s really important to us as it’s part of our brand. This is also a testament to show people of color what’s possible, that we don’t have to marginalize ourselves to specific areas or neighborhoods, where we assume businesses are Black-owned. We have a quality product; we add value to the communities that we go into. We should be able to open anywhere as opposed to just saying we have to be here.

You use the term “Reverse Gentrification.” What does that mean to you?

For our purposes, it’s a term that I coined when we opened Brooklyn Heights, where we were a Black-owned business in an affluent community, predominantly absent of color. This idea is not new to our brand, nor our founder. In fact, when Derrick started in Baltimore, he was actually the first establishment that was open in the neighborhood of Fells Point, right across the Ritz Carlton. What we have found from Baltimore to Brooklyn, and now Nolita, is that through our ideology of reverse gentrification, we can provide possibility not just to Black people, but communities of color in general, to understand that when you have a business and you have a brand and you believe in it, you should push yourself forward to go anywhere, and not just in certain sectors of the world or specific neighborhoods. So, it’s not just about opening your business in this white community, or this community that’s filled with money, but how do you bring value to the community?

Part of this, I believe, is also your intention to bring more people of color into the food sector. Has that been successful? 

It has been successful for us because we are providing creatives of color within the food industry with an alternative beyond just one-off collabs or pop-ups that last a day. We are pairing them with larger brands that we work with. One of the more successful collaborations that we’ve done was with Oishii berry, a Japanese company, who reached out to Cloudy Donut for a collaboration. We had an even grander idea to bring in Maddy Park (her Instagram is @cafemaddy, and she cooks all Korean flavors and different products as an homage to where she’s from) for a collaboration with Oishii. What we like to do is not only provide them an opportunity to sell their products in our spaces but also give them the opportunity to work with an even larger brand to form their own relationships and partnerships through the doors that we’ve opened.

Photo via Cloudy Donut Instagram” width=”1024″ height=”769″ >
Donuts from Cloudy Donut Co.
Photo via Cloudy Donut Instagram

All good. Can we talk doughnuts now? 

Sure.

What are your most popular choices?

We’re not like a quintessential donut shop that has the same six flavors. We have over 50 flavors, and they change all the time, so it’s really hard to identify the most popular, though our new pound cake doughnut is doing really well right now. We’ve expanded from doughnuts to now dessert. We also make pancakes and cinnamon rolls. People typically come to the cinnamon rolls and the pancakes first, and end up loving the doughnuts as a classic. 

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