Facing heavy fire and destitute conditions in World War I trenches in 1917, the female volunteers from the Salvation Army risked their lives to boost morale with a classic American treat. It is the story of these “Doughnut Lassies” — alongside local shops on the U.S. East Coast where he visited family — that first spurred Darrick Hayden’s love of doughnuts.
The Evansville native tells the tale of the Lassies online as part of the story of his own efforts to bring the comfort of homemade doughnuts to his community. Hayden and Comfort by the Cross-Eyed Cricket owner Joshua Tudela opened the first Parlor Doughnuts location Downtown in February 2019. The business has since evolved into a quickly expanding franchise.
Parlor currently serves more than 20 flavors of its signature layered doughnuts from 10 company-owned locations across the nation, including its flagship store at 12 N.W. Third St. and the shop at 301 N. Green River Road that opened in December 2019.
Headquartered on the third floor of the Bitterman Building (owned by Tudela) in Downtown Evansville, Parlor is a combination of Hayden’s taste for the East Coast and the ambiance of his wife Jennifer’s native Oceanside, California.
“A big part of the vision in the business is having a space for community connection,” says Hayden, “because a parlor, that’s what it was. Turn of the century, that’s where you courted someone, that’s where you had business deals … so the space is really important to us. We’ve spent a lot of time, thought, and investment into actually the space you see as well.”
Coined by Hayden as coastal Americana, Parlor’s exterior and interior décor and architecture were carefully selected. Hints of wood and deep earth tones welcome patrons into the comfort of the shops, while bold patterns and gold accents give it a bright, modern edge.
Each store contains vintage toys and signage that add a nostalgic element — even on one’s first visit, the decor combined with the scent of freshly baked dough and sugary glazes provoke feelings of comfort.
The attention to detail is intentional. Hayden and Tudela up the ante with custom furniture, fixtures, and glass display cases.
“We have a logistics truck with a U-Haul full of everything made in Evansville, and we send it out across the country,” says Hayden. “We wanted (our décor) to be custom, and we wanted it to be made in Evansville.”
The coastal influences can be traced throughout Parlor’s menu. There are healthy variations of its standard fluffy, round doughnuts, including keto, vegan/gluten friendly, and even dog doughnuts. Hayden realized customers wouldn’t realistically order doughnuts every morning, so the menu includes several breakfast sandwiches and tacos, avocado toast, and an acai bowl.
Patrons don’t go thirsty at Parlor, either. The local shops offer kombucha and juice from Evansville-based Sunshine Juice Co., which the company purchased in 2020. It also introduced doughnut-flavored milkshakes in summer 2021, made with each flavor’s toppings and glazes, but no actual doughnuts are harmed in the milkshake-making process.
But Hayden says Parlor’s real secret weapon is having its own specialty coffee. A precursor to Parlor Doughnuts, Proper Coffee was opened by Hayden’s son, Noah, inside Eastland Mall in 2015.
“The next step was always to bring in doughnuts,” says Hayden.
It was a plan formed by Hayden and his son from their years traveling the country with Noah’s Evansville-based band, Mission Six. Founded in 2005, Mission Six was a Christian rock band made up of five children from Evansville Christian School, including Noah as lead vocalist. They practiced at the West Side’s New Beginnings Lakeside Church, which Hayden founded and served as lead pastor for 25 years; he stepped down in March 2021 to run Parlor full time.
“(Noah) was always in search of the best coffee. I was in search of the best doughnut,” says Hayden. “So, state to state, city to city, that’s what we would do. We always wanted to put those two together some day.”
Now 26 years old, Noah runs much of the business’ creative side, including social media. He also manages Parlor’s shop in Oceanside, its first brick-and-mortar location outside of Evansville.
Noah isn’t the only member of Mission Six to stay connected through Parlor.
Mission Six keyboardist Isaac Alling is the manager of the two Nashville locations, while drummer David Horner helped with website development.
With about 200 total employees, including 10 headquarters staff, Parlor’s employment is based in one of Hayden’s goals: a new line of doughnuts for a new generation. Out of all of Parlor managers, the eldest is 33 years old; the rest are in their 20s.
“I’ve always desired to raise up a generation, so that’s a big part of the vision of the business,” says Hayden.
From the inspiration behind the brand, the staff, and the parlor atmosphere to opening new locations, Parlor is founded on the idea of community. Like Oceanside, Hayden chose new cities for expansion based on the people and the community he could put in place there.
A gleaming silver Airstream trailer serving as a food truck was Parlor’s first venture outside the Tri-State. Launched in June 2020 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the Gulf Coast city now has a fully operational brick-and-mortar store.
Parlor has also expanded into Colorado, Texas, and South Carolina.
“We were testing the success in different markets because we wanted to become a national brand, so we felt like we had to get little success stories throughout the nation,” Hayden says. “It was not an easy scaling season … but that was our moment to scale. We knew the next phase was going to be franchising, so we wanted to be able to have those shops throughout the country.”
On June 30, 2021, Parlor Doughnuts received federal approval to begin franchising operations. But the brand still needs approval from each state, a process overseen by director of Business and Franchise Development Paul Bair.
Bair joined the Parlor team in October 2020 when the demand for franchising finally reached its peak with about 150 inquiries. He has rolled out two pilot partnerships in Lake Worth, Texas, and Pawleys Island, South Carolina, expanding the company’s holdings to 12 shops.
The cost to start a Parlor franchise ranges from $397,500 t0 $1,309,000 depending on the site and renovations/building costs.
“We (have begun) getting to know them and interviewing and all of that now,” says Bair. “What you see from most of our franchising inquiries are people that went into our shops and want to take that experience to their hometown.”
The franchises still will be rooted in Evansville, where Bair says Parlor plans to train employees and managers who will then work across the country, making the River City its national hub.
Franchisees also will be required to complete a certain amount of community engagement and support, something existing stores already take part in. In Evansville, give-back nights and donations are available, while the Oceanside location donates doughnuts to homeless shelters.
In September, Indiana Kids Belong released a mobile app for foster families called “Foster Friendly.” The no-ad, free app features more than 35 local business locations, including Parlor Doughnuts, offering discounted food purchases and family activities to foster families.
“Part of Parlor’s values include giving back to the communities where we operate, including a passion for active military, veterans, and first responders,” Bair says. This conviction was evident in March 2021, when the Denver location delivered three dozen doughnuts specially ordered by the Evansville Police Department for their counterparts in Boulder, Colorado, after an officer in the latter department was killed in a mass shooting at a King Soopers supermarket.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re engaging with the communities and giving back,” says Bair.
“That’s kind of a part of our mission statement and the story of the war,” adds Hayden. “It’s bigger than coffee and doughnuts to us — it’s bringing a little bit of comfort in life.”
With four more shops slated to join its roster, and 28 franchising applications received in the first two weeks of its federal approval, Parlor Doughnuts’ growth doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
You can lounge at the parlor, munching on your favorite doughnut flavor from 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at the South Green River Road shop. Parlor’s Downtown location is open 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We had big visions. … The speed is definitely quicker than what we would’ve thought, so we’re just riding the wave right now,” says Hayden. “I’m looking forward to these franchises, serving, (and) letting other people fulfill their dream and partnering with them.”