Reisterstown native and resident Josh Kowitz, 34, calls out to one of his employees in the kitchen to use only a little bit of strawberry extract … “and a little bit of pink food coloring.”
It’s Thursday, Jan. 12, the first day of business for Kowitz and his Hampden-based doughnut shop, Center Cut Doughnuts.
“Add water liberally and then just thin it out a little bit,” he continues, giving instructions to his small staff in his quaint-sized store at 3528 Chestnut Ave., around the corner from his friends and pseudo-mentors at The Charmery.
Aside from being so close to Dave Alima and wife Laura who opened up and run ice cream store The Charmery — where Kowitz had installed an early pop-up incarnation of Center Cut multiple times over the two years he ran it as such a transient entity — 3528 Chestnut Ave. had another obvious appeal for the new doughnut shop.
Kowitz lucked into finding a space that just happened to already exist as a doughnut store.
Having closed their doors in November, the owners of B. Doughnut sold extant pieces of equipment to Kowitz, allowing him to more easily transition his pop-up, appearing regularly at the Hampden Farmers’ Market since May 2015, into his first brick and mortar.
His soft opening celebration of a sort took place on Tuesday, Jan. 10 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Regular hours are 7 a.m, to 2 p.m. now that Center Cut is officially open.)
“We overbaked,” Kowitz said with a hearty laugh. “We had a bunch of extra doughnuts left over.”
As such, Kowitz went out on the street with his staff giving out free doughnuts to passers-by. By this point, it was the “dessert hour,” as Kowitz phrased it, and he was able to hand out plenty of delectable doughy treats to Baltimoreans happening by.
For the time being, Kowitz is focusing on a basic line of specialty, gourmet doughnuts until he gets his footing, as he said.
“Just until I can start paying rent with some money in the register,” he said, again laughing. “I’m pretty close to that already.”
A fan of the beloved animated television series “The Simpsons,” Kowitz has named his pink sprinkled doughnut the “Homer,” after the paterfamilias of America’s favorite highlighter-colored dysfunctional family.
There are a tidy handful of “Simpsons” action figures in the aqua-blue tinted doughnut display, and Homer’s face eating a pink doughnut not unlike those that can be purchased at Center Cut emblazons Kowitz’s chef’s apron.
“I mean, who doesn’t like ‘The Simpsons’?” Kowitz said. “[The show’s] just synonymous [with doughnuts.]”
Kowitz went on to say that that his fandom of the show “doesn’t drive him,” though. “It’s not my life.”
Along with his signature brown butter doughnuts, old-fashioned glazed and lemon poppy challah doughnut (made from fried challah dough), it would seem these delicious sugary confections are his life.
Kowitz began trying his hand at making the perfect doughnut (or at least close enough) while still working his day job as a credit analyst for the past five years. His grandfather being a pastry chef and his family running the erstwhile local deli Bubb’s as well as a chain of local markets, Kowitz said food has been in his blood, be it making, serving or selling it.
For six to eight months, Kowitz said, he came home from work every night and went straight to his alchemical experimentations in determining the ideal yeast formulation.
“I’d try all these different kinds,” Kowitz said. “I’d go on the internet, I’d do this, I’d do that. And then I think by accident, I stumbled on this — a light, crispy, airy doughnut — and a light bulb went off for my ‘Aha! moment.’”
After bringing his successes (and occasional failures) to the office, Kowitz began hearing from delighted co-workers that his concoctions were good enough for the open market.
Center Cut Doughnuts, so named for Kowitz’s love of baseball (center cut being a fast ball straight down the middle “and a doughnut has a hole in the center of it,” chuckled Kowitz), was born.
Doors are now open on Kowitz’s first full-fledged store after cutting his teeth at those farmers’ market appearances and pop-ups at The Charmery.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them,” Kowitz said of his longtime friends and husband-and-wife co-owners of The Charmery. “They helped me get my name out there, certainly.”
Having lacked the time and resources last minute before opening, Kowitz enlisted in the help of Dave Alima, who was more than happy to lend a hand … and a few blue plastic trays.
“Ice cream has given me my dream life,” said Alima. “And if I can help my friends achieve their dream life, I’m going to do whatever I can every time. This was something [Kowitz] had talked about for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have him here.
“The doughnuts are great, and it’s complementary to our ice cream. Who doesn’t want that in a neighborhood?”
Alima’s not alone in his declaration, with customers such as Jemal Cole trumpeting, “I’m a fan!”
Waiting in line on the first morning for his Center Cut fix, Cole has followed Kowitz’s creation since it was first offered at the farmers’ market and also attended the store’s soft opening.
“I like that they’re local, I like that they’re new and different, that they’re not a chain,” Cole said.
Wendy Doak, another customer in line, hadn’t heard of Center Cut before reading about the shop’s opening in the newspaper but agrees that “I like to support local: I think it keeps the businesses and character alive of the city.”
Hampden’s “forward-thinking acceptance of new ideas,” as Kowitz sees it, is exactly what made the town a perfect place to kick-start Center Cut.
“If I were to tell someone who was visiting Baltimore where to go for food,” Kowitz said, “I’d tell them to go to Hampden. БК «Винлайн» – один из лидеров рынка российских легальных букмекеров. Компания была основана в 2009 году, а на сегодняшний день входит в тройку лучших российских БК по выручке. «Винлайн» предлагает фрибет на 1000 рублей за регистрацию. Не нужно вносить депозит, деньги можно вывести сразу после выигрыша, ограничений по коэффициенту нет. www winline ru букмекерская Букмекера отличает высокая технологичность: у БК «Винлайн» не так много пунктов приема ставок, она делает упор на присутствие онлайн. It’s the food mecca of Baltimore.”
“Doughnuts and ice cream,” Alima concurred. “This is the kind of stuff that makes Baltimore great!”