Melissa Hess shares her personal journey on developing her local pop-up donut shop
Melissa Hess is a visionary and dreams of a future with not just her own Flint donut shop but a future that makes a difference locally. “The food industry is so male dominated. I think the biggest thing is just having women come together and raise each other up. Empowering each other. From all different backgrounds, all different races, and sexualities… When I have my own place someday it’s going to be so open and inviting.” Melissa sat across from me at the local Flint Crepe Company, where she currently works full time, and shared her inspiring story of her pop of donut shop ‘Peddler Doughnuts.’
Melissa grew up in Burton, Michigan and six years ago at the age of 18 she moved to downtown Flint. It was as a kid that her love for donuts started.
I told my mom when I was really young. I wanna make things. I wanna bake.
”My parents met at a donut shop,” she said with a laugh. “My mom worked at the counter at Donna’s Donuts. My dad was a security officer, and she would give him free donuts. They’ve been together since 1989! It was predestined almost in a way. I told my mom when I was really young. I wanna make things. I wanna bake.”
Her adventures with baking started off with cakes and cupcakes in her mother’s kitchen messing “everything up and making horrible things!” In 2016 Melissa started to plan what it would be like to start making her own donut recipes. “Nothing worked out until my 50th batch! In the summer time I finally got something when I started working with yeast dough.” Melissa began making her donuts at her apartment, and at times at the Flint Crepe Company, over a two day span, working up to six hours in the kitchen.
I asked Melissa if she remembered any moment where she felt the room or ability to create something unique with food. She smiled, and told me that the Crepe Co. allowed her to attempt to add her own recipe to their menu. Her first original crepe was a pumpkin flavored cheesecake. Since the development of her pop-up shop, she has made a point to be mindful of her ingredients. Her main value is that her ingredients are all natural as much as possible and mindfully sourced. Because of her values she has had partnerships with The Grafted Root Eatery and Flint Farmers’ Market, and Steady Eddy's. However, a year ago there was a major shift in Melissa’s business. She decided that she needed to take a break and time for herself.
Melissa used that year off making connections with people, making time with her parents, and learning to have a balance in her life between work, health, and relationships. During her break she signed up for classes at the Culinary Center at Mott Community College and is planning on obtaining a degree in Culinary Arts and a certificate in baking and pastry.
During her hiatus, a friend asked Melissa what it was he could do to support her bringing back her donuts and her shop. He knew, like so many others, that she had something amazing to offer and it’s not just her delicious and unique donuts. Melissa radiates kindness, vulnerability, and bravery.
Recently Melissa won a scholarship through the Cherry Bombe Jubilee organization. Melissa was able to go their annual conference in New York City and listen to food industry legends and members. During her time there she was able to listen to Ruth Reichl and Dorie Greenspan. “My time there... it changed me. I feel like that is such a strong statement, but I think it did.”
When I have my own place someday it’s going to be so open and inviting.
"I was listening to speakers of all different cultures and ethnicities. So for me when I open up my own shop, the biggest thing I took from it is to be open and inclusive... When I have my own place someday it’s going to be so open and inviting.” Melissa has returned from her hiatus and is currently doing several local pop-up donut shops throughout each month. Her special pop-up dates can be found on her Instagram.
I struggled with self doubt and hating what I made...
Peddler Doughnut's pop-ups have brought confidence, new strategy, and encouragement again into Melissa’s life. I asked her how she dealt with finally finding the confidence and how she would encourage other women to overcome self doubt. “I struggled with self doubt and hating what I made. But now I know it’s beautiful. I can’t always see it, but I have to push past it. You don’t even have to struggle with it — kind of let it fall away. It will come to you, what you make will suddenly seem beautiful. It’s something I struggled with deeply. Let it fall away.”
Melissa’s vision for her future donut shop includes “brunchy options,” breakfast plates, quiches, salads for lunch, and of course a display case of baked goods and donuts. She envisions her shop as a light space with floral accents and the smells of chai teas to pair with her donuts. With fresh eyes Melissa sees her dream shop as a way to connect with people and for that she is grateful.
“For me right now it’s a process of gratitude. I'm grateful that there are people out there who want to experience what I’ve made. I am grateful I have the ability to make things. I’m making magic and I want to give it out.” Melissa Hess is determined, humble, and brave. There is no doubt that her donuts will rule the world one day, but until then we want to share her story with you.
She is making tiny changes in her community in a creative and beautiful way. We as women are all capable of this. Her story is our story. If you get a chance to try one her salted maple pie donuts, I would highly recommend it. What I really recommend is getting to know Melissa because you will walk away with your heart warmed and your soul inspired.
Written and Photographs by: Jenifer Veloso