The word “Duffeyroll” has become part of the vernacular in Denver, and Nick Ault, president of the Duffeyroll Café, would like to spread the word to other parts of the country. He’s starting the campaign in Boulder, Colorado, this spring and has plans for three stores in the Chicago area by the end of the year.
A Duffeyroll is like a cinnamon roll but not doughy or topped with a thick layer of frosting. The Duffeyroll, Ault says, is flaky like a French pastry and finished with a light glaze in the customer’s choice of six flavors: Original, Zesty Orange, Irish Cream, Mountain Maple, English Toffee, or Pecanilla Crunch.
The rolls come in two sizes, one with a 4-inch diameter and the other as a bite-size “mini.” A mini Duffeyroll is included with every entrée, so even customers who prefer a savory breakfast sandwich—like the Rising Sun, made with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese, and chipotle mayonnaise; the Rooster Roonie, with scrambled eggs, pepperjack cheese, tomato, sprouts, and chipotle mayonnaise; or the Naked Nellie, designed for the carb-conscious diner and made with scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado, cheddar cheese, but no bread—can end the meal with a touch of sweetness.
The Duffeyroll Café, which serves a full menu of breakfast items in addition to the Duffeyroll and other bakery items—like pecan sticky buns, scones, muffins, bagels, and croissants—had humble beginnings.
Ault, a recent college graduate at the time, was tending a bar one evening in Denver just days before his planned departure to California for a job with IBM. A bar patron, oilman Jim Duffey, told him two things that night: He wanted out of the oil business and he had a wonderful recipe for cinnamon rolls. The two talked into the wee hours and a few days later, IBM was told thanks, but no thanks, and the Duffeyroll was born.
The Duffeyroll Café
President & Co-founder: Nick Ault
Headquarters: Denver, Colorado
Year Started: 1986
Annual sales: Undisclosed
Total Units: 2
Franchise Units: 0
“I didn’t want a coat-and-tie job,” Ault says. “So we had two push carts built and rented a kitchen and sold Duffeyrolls on the streets of downtown Denver.”
That was all well and good, but then winter started knocking at the door.
“The Duffeyrolls became very popular on the streets and we also sold them at Farmers’ Markets, but by November we were so cold we were wearing six pairs of socks,” Ault says. “Then we had the opportunity to take over the lease on a storefront. It caught us just at the right time.”
At one point, the young Ault left the business for six weeks, but discovered he had cinnamon in his blood and couldn’t stay away. He ended up buying out Duffey in May of 1987 to become the sole owner. But, he says, Duffeyroll sounded better than “Aultroll,” so he kept the original name. In addition to the storefront, he also kept the pushcart operation going for three more years, plus added wholesale accounts, catering, and office delivery.
“It was frustrating in the beginning because we had an enormously popular product, but we weren’t making money,” Ault says. “I’m a marketing guy, so I figured if you had a good product and provided great service, the numbers would take care of themselves. They didn’t.”
On the advice of his accountant, Ault doubled the price of his rolls. The customers barely flinched, and the move saved the business, allowing the evolution of the menu from solely rolls, orange juice, and coffee to other baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and wraps, and a lunch menu that includes soups, sandwiches, wraps, and salads.
Twenty years after the first pushcart hit the streets, a second larger café location opened in 2006. The 1,100-square-foot original location seats 22 guests, while the new 2,300-square-foot location seats 34. Both locations are open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week. Between the two stores, Ault employs 26 people.
“The menu is very streamlined,” he says. “We don’t have fryers or grills because we are not trying to be all things to all people.”
Ault says breakfast sandwiches and coffee account for a quarter of total sales at the restaurants with the average ticket at breakfast coming in between $7–$8. Lunch, with an average ticket of $9–$10, adds another 21 percent. Lunch offerings include grilled wraps and fresh sandwiches like the Cheddar Tunacado made with white albacore tuna, cheddar cheese, and avocado on a rosemary ciabatta roll and the Nick Turkey with sliced turkey breast, cranberry, cream cheese, and sprouts on a rosemary ciabatta roll. Salads, chili, and a soup of the day round out the lunch menu.
As for beverages, Duffeyroll Café also has its own line of signature coffees available in light roast, dark roast, decaf, and one flavored variety. The company also serves a proprietary iced tea called Islesboro tea made from a recipe Ault’s grandmother came up with in Islesboro, Maine. The brewed tea is poured over fresh mint leaves then fresh lemons are added.
“It’s a very unique iced tea flavor, very distinct to Duffey’s,” Ault says.
Despite the variety of food and drinks on the menu, it’s the Duffeyroll that remains the star of the show, racking up 54 percent of sales.
A single regular-sized Duffeyroll sells for $2.09. A half dozen go for $8.99 and a full dozen are priced at $14.99. The minis are three for $2.09, $4.09 for a half dozen, and $7.99 for a full dozen.
“We made the dough fresh from scratch for 10 years,” he says. “Now we outsource the dough. We get it in frozen sheets that we put onto pans to rise. Then we roll it out and bake it as part of the theater when customers come in.
“I resisted outsourcing the dough for so long, but then I went to a seminar by the American Institute of Baking and learned how freezing actually gave us more consistency and made the dough flakier. It improved the product and gave us more leeway to grow business with consistency and integrity.”
Ault says he will test market the Duffeyroll Café brand in Boulder and in the three stores planned for Chicago this year then consider franchising more units. In a few years, he says, diners may see the iconic Duffeyroll character with the cinnamon-swirl smile welcoming them into Duffeyroll Café stores across the nation.
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