Smile Politely

Pandamonium Doughnuts owner chats doughnuts and drinks

One of my first memories I have of being a UIUC student is when I went to the Matsuri Festival that happens at the beginning of every school year. It was a hot summer day; my makeup was sweating off, and I was overwhelmed by the fact that everything was so novel in my fresh college eyes. Furthermore, something remarkable happened that day, and it’s something that I’ll never forget: I had my first matcha donut from Pandamonium. Ever since then, I still think about that donut whenever I look back on my undergraduate years: how it was a memory that flavored the rest of my college experience.

Now, this donut led me to the person who was able to make my remembrance so sweet: James Kyung, the owner of Pandamonium Doughnuts.

Smile Politely: Hi. Can you introduce yourself?

James Kyung: Hello! My name is James Kyung, and I am the founder and owner of Pandamonium Doughnuts. I own the business with my wife, Marci Kyung, who is also a fourth grade teacher.

SP: What inspired you to establish Pandamonium?

Kyung: It was our love of food that kicked off the whole Pandamonium Doughnuts journey.  What began as a hobby and really just to feed our own doughnut obsession, Pandamonium Doughnuts started in our little apartment kitchen in Champaign. Like most people, we loved doughnuts, but couldn’t find what we were looking for in town. So we decided to just teach ourselves how to make doughnuts, so that we could start creating our own style of doughnuts to eat and share with family.

In fact, after many trials and errors, we developed our own recipe for the doughnuts (both cake style and yeast style) in our home kitchen, and it is still the same recipe we use today! This led to Pandamonium Doughnuts being created and debuting at the Urbana Farmer’s Market in June of 2013. We are still the only true, made-from-scratch doughnut bakery in Central Illinois, and one of the few in the entire state. This means all our doughnuts are artisan-handmade and created from scratch with scratch ingredients every morning. We still use our own unique recipe and never use any pre-made icings, pre-mixes, or ready-to-mix ingredients many places use now.

SP: What did you do before Pandamonium?

Kyung: I was a photographer and barista before Pandamonium Doughnuts.

SP: What is a regular day of work at Pandamonium like?

Kyung: We start between midnight and 2 a.m. every morning in the kitchen pumping out as many made from scratch doughnuts as we can. So all the batters and dough are prepped, cut, fried, glazed, and decorated by hand before we can serve them. We pump out multiple batches throughout the morning to ensure everyone gets the freshest product possible.

We also sell delicious coffee and tea products from our partners Counter Culture Coffee and Rishi Tea. We have a full espresso menu (latte, cortado, capps, etc) and over 15 varieties of loose leaf organic teas, as well as frozen blended drinks, hand-squeezed lemonades, and smoothies perfect for these hot summer days.

A cinnamon sugar doughnut sits with a bite out of it on a parchment paper sleeve. Image courtesy of Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

SP: What is your favorite doughnut that Pandamonium serves?

Kyung: Oh man, this is a tough question! I don’t think I have one answer as it changes depending on my mood for the day. I would say some top ones are our PB&J, cookie dough, strawberry rhubarb, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, chai cake, blueberry lemon, and maple bacon apple fritters. But really, this list could go on and on.

SP: What is your favorite drink that you serve?

Kyung: We have probably the best chai tea lattes you can find in town. No concentrate and no pre-made powders. Just loose-leaf chai tea, milk, vanilla, and a little honey. Our matcha lattes and cortados really hit the spot, too.  

A light brown coffee drink with a heart swirl on top sits next to a closed paper box of Pandamonium Doughnuts. Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

SP: How do you come up with new doughnut styles?

Kyung: This is probably the question I am asked the most. The most fun part about the job is coming up with new flavors and trying to think outside the box. We have a whole list of new flavors we want to work on, and this list is constantly growing. We then start experimenting with the flavors and conceptualize how to make them into a doughnut. In the end, it’s really just a lot of trial and error and eating a bunch of doughnuts until we get it right.

Often, we think of seasonal flavors, but other times flavors are inspired by popular desserts or common treats. For instance, a couple of our newest flavors are CTC (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and the Hostess Cupcake. Both of these flavors are inspired by their respective counterparts in the treat aisle at the grocery store. But instead of just adding them as a topping, we really wanted to make them unique. So for our CTC, we made a vanilla icing, topped with a streusel made with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and swirls of cinnamon on top. We do offer vegan flavors and gluten-friendly flavors. Our vegan options are available every day!

SP: I notice you usually have some Asian-influenced doughnuts such as the Saigon cinnamon sugar or matcha doughnut. What inspires you to lean on Asian flavors?

Kyung: I would say we try to experiment with lots of different types of flavors, but we do have a good amount of Asian-inspired flavors. Being a first generation Korean-American, I am naturally drawn to these flavor profiles. We also have a black sesame and red bean doughnut we do as special flavors for Japan House events.

SP: How is business now since reopening after lockdown?

Kyung: It has definitely been challenging, and we’ve learned to take it week by week at this point. With this constantly changing landscape and numbers fluctuating, It is our responsibility to do what we can and utilize things we are able to control during this highly uncertain time to do our part in getting through this pandemic. We are extremely fortunate to have the option of allowing online pre-ordering for pick up and opening our food truck to operate in an outdoor setting. 

We are extremely thankful for all the support and love we have received since the lockdowns were put into place. Every week is uncertain, but our amazing customers have made it possible for us to continue operating.

A pastry with a yellow filling it cut in half on parchment paper on a metal tray. Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

SP: How do Pandamonium doughnuts differ in its artisanal techniques in comparison to other doughnuts?

Kyung: At Pandamonium Doughnuts, the biggest difference between our doughnuts and other doughnuts in the area is that we are the only true, made-from-scratch doughnut bakery in all of Central Illinois. This means our doughnuts (both cake and yeast styles) are artisan handmade from scratch using scratch ingredients from our very own unique recipe we developed back in 2013 in our little apartment kitchen.

All our doughs, batters, and icings — and nearly all toppings and fillings — are made in house from scratch. We also prep, roll, cut, crank, fry, glaze, and decorate all our doughnuts individually by hand. Unlike most places, we never use pre-mixes, pre-made icings, ready-to-mix batters or dough. We also do not use any artificial flavors.

We truly feel that these artisan methods make a huge difference in not only the flavors but also the quality of the product you are receiving at Pandamonium. We want to make sure you are getting the very best doughnut made with the best ingredients and techniques.

A doughnut with purple icing and a thin yellow strand of icing. Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

Image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

SP: What’s the most popular thing that customers get from here?

Kyung: Each week is a little different, but I would say our top sellers with doughnuts are the cookies n’ cream, blueberry lemon, birthday cake, maple bacon apple fritters, chocolate overdose, Saigon cinnamon sugar, and cereal killer. And for drinks: chai latte, matcha latte, frozen cereal killer, and our lemonades.

SP: What’s the best way to get our Pandamonium donut fix right now?

Kyung: We are extremely fortunate to have the option of allowing online pre-ordering for pick up and opening the Food Truck to operate in an outdoor setting. So right now, we are not letting anyone inside our store to avoid people congregating in an indoor setting. Our customers can get doughnuts in two ways. The first method is by going to our online pre-ordering website and placing a pre-order for pick up. After placing an order, all you have to do is stop by our store entrance for quick, contactless pick up. This method is highly recommended as it is the quickest method, but it also guarantees you doughnuts and flavors you want without having to worry if we’ll sell out before you get there. The other method to get doughnuts is by visiting the food truck for walk-up, carry out orders. Our food truck right now is only parked in our parking lot right in front of our store. It is open at 8 o’clock until we sell out. You can order whatever doughnuts we have for the day and can also order drinks.

Our truck is open Wednesday to Sunday, starting at 8 a.m. until sold out. You can order from whatever doughnuts we have for the day and also drinks.

SP: How can C-U help support Pandamonium?

Kyung: People can continue placing pre-orders for pick up from our new website or keep on coming by the food truck. And keep sharing and liking our posts on social media.

SP: Anything else you’d like to share?

Kyung: We are so, so grateful for all the support and love we have received over the past 3+ months as we continue to navigate this new normal together. Our customers are the reason we continue to work hard every day and provide you all with some sort of normalcy and sweet treats during these crazy times. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Pandamonium Doughnuts
1105 Windsor Rd
W-Su 8 a.m. to sold out

Top image from Pandamonium Doughnuts Instagram.

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