Cool Under Pressure
Photos and Story By Meda Kessler
It’s been an up and down five years for Dough Boy Donut, but business lately has been good. And despite the pandemic and recent social upheaval, Melvin Roberson stays true to himself and his dream.
For our 2015 Cool Issue, we gained a few pounds sampling gourmet doughnuts from a food truck. Owner Melvin Roberson even pulled up outside our office to fry up a batch, because that’s how he wants customers to eat his Dough Boy Donuts: fresh and hot. Melvin had worked in the restaurant industry for 15 years when, wanting to carve out a niche for himself, he turned his attention to making scratch doughnuts. His vision was to roll, cut, cook and dress the doughnuts to order — so as to offer the freshest product possible.
Five years later, Melvin still has the truck, but he now does his core business from a storefront in the historic Camp Bowie District in Fort Worth. After experiencing the highs (mobility, flexibility) and lows (breakdowns, challenging working conditions), he wanted something more permanent, a place with a real kitchen somewhere people could find him every day.
In August of 2018, Melvin announced he had found such a spot — a custom cake shop that was already set up for retail. The store was surrounded by some of Fort Worth’s most historic businesses, such as the original Kincaid’s Hamburgers and Lucile’s bistro. The bright blue interior is inviting. A glass case displays samples of the offerings: Sriracha maple bacon, pistachio lime, chocolate glaze. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and hot coffee also are available. He also expanded the menu after a year or so to include savory breakfast sandwiches and sausage rolls; seasonal flavors such as hibiscus and banana pudding gave customers even more options. Melvin was ready, but the steady business he had hoped for never really materialized.
“I was surprised and disappointed, but you figure out other ways to move forward,” says Melvin, who continued to collaborate with fellow Fort Worth chefs as well as cater special events.
Fast-forward to the arrival of COVID-19 this past spring. But what might have been a knockout blow for some turned out to be an odd blessing in disguise for Melvin. Like others in the restaurant industry, he and his staff had to flip the switch immediately with reduced hours, curbside pickup and online ordering. Dough Boy did neighborhood pop-ups in Fort Worth and surrounding cities, offering hot coffee and preselected boxes. Using the power of social media, they’d announce locations and times just as they did in the food truck days.
Like the rest of us, Melvin also had to think about the safety of his staff and family. Melvin is married with three children, including a son with special needs, as well as three dogs. His parents work at the shop. “Every work decision affects our personal lives, as well as those of our customers. We have to think about that every day,” he says.
When dining rooms were allowed to reopen in late April, Melvin opted to stay with takeaway service. In early June, he announced that they were giving up the dining room side of his space, which is now for lease. A limited number of customers at a time are allowed in for carry-out service only. But through it all, Melvin has kept his focus on the food: Saturday specials have included a brisket-doughnut sandwich — we hope it comes back soon for an encore.
Another turning point for Dough Boy was the strong support that emerged for Black-owned small businesses through social media. “We’ve seen our Instagram and Facebook numbers skyrocket,” says Melvin. “We went from 25 orders on a weekday to 115. I was getting by with three employees and now have 12.” Drive by the shop on Saturday morning and you’ll see a line of people waiting to get in for their takeaway orders. In turn, Dough Boy has used the hashtag #blackbusinessspotlight to promote others, such as Black Coffee on Fort Worth’s eastside and Fort Worth Barber Shop.
“It has been tough mentally, emotionally and physically,” says Melvin, who remains cautious about today’s business environment. But he’s also optimistic. “Business is good. We’re getting more repeat business and are building new relationships. We have a solid, hardworking staff.”
And while he contemplates his long-term future in his current space, he also has been approached with possible expansion — plans he hopes to reveal soon. “One thing is for sure: Life isn’t dull.”