Harvey Cohen is raising donuts to the next level
Harvey’s Gourmet Mini Donuts are gobbled down by Google and Salesforce employees, Stanford students, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants VIPs, people at Nancy Pelosi’s parties and those who attended soirees where Snoop Dog and Katie Perry sang. But you can only buy them by the dozen here, at the Tuesday night Farmers Market, and come this fall, at the new Harvey’s Donut Bar and Café.
The donuts are the genius creation of Harvey Cohen, a magical-looking man with a grey ponytail and matching mustache, who wears a black top hat when he stands behind his donut machine dropping dollops of all-natural batter into a small, vertical vat of 350-degree soy oil he calls “the river of heaven.”
“The word you’re searching for is mesmerizing,” the sign in his sales booth says, describing his customers who stare at the amazing machine that makes up to 1,000 donuts per hour. Harvey owns eight of the minidonut makers and keeps them busy – his company sells an average of 10,000 donuts a week catering to high-tech companies and providing sweet treats at weddings, birthday bashes and bar mitzvahs.
Harvey doles out the donuts in paper cones, usually three per serving, and they are “decorated,” as he calls it, immediately with whatever one wants, while still warm. Harvey offers an array of glazes and toppings, recipes he’s slaved over, dropping flavoring into powdered sugar a drop at a time until he reaches the ultimate donut delight. Besides straightforward and popular chocolate and vanilla, he offers glazes ranging from key lime to maple, and even bacon.
They are always made while the donut-eater watches, and that is just how it will be when Harvey opens his café at a building in the Springs that was most recently occupied by Wild Thyme catering, earlier on by a nursery school, and long ago was the Valley of the Moon Water District office. Harvey loves the history and the tree-shaded patio, and wants his café to be where people come to sit and chat, sipping coffee while watching mini- donuts dance out, ready to be devoured.
“People are always asking me, ‘Do you have a store, do you have a store?’” he said, and he decided it was time turn his no answer into a yes. He’s been working on converting part of the commercial kitchen into a café area, and it will be open both early and late, so there’s always somewhere open to snack and relax.
He will stock 50 different bottled root beers and hopes to hold tastings for kids, who he considers very important customers. Real beer and wine will be on the menu, too.
Harvey and his wife Georgia moved to the Valley 30 years ago, and raised their two daughters, Maryn and Zorelle, here. They are all part of the Harvey’s Gourmet enterprise, which has 18 employees.
Harvey started his working life as a wholesale diamond broker and then entered the art world, selling framed antique Burt’s seed packets at art festivals almost every weekend for 20 years. When the economy crashed in 2008 and art sales slowed, he decided to enter the food end of the festival scene, and remembered a man and his donut machine he’d met years before. He was a retired General Motors engineer (who folklore says worked on the ’57 Chevy) and the donut maker was his invention.
The engineer had died, and Harvey bought his first machine from the man’s son, who holds the patent, and eventually Harvey purchased several more. Early sales were sluggish, as donuts don’t do well in places like Manteca and San Juan Baptista when it’s 96 degrees.
Then Harvey brought his donut maker and 500 flyers promoting his company to the Makers Fair in San Mateo in May 2009, telling techy-types to bring them to their company and ask to have Harvey make his donuts at their work sites.
“The next day the phone started ringing and it hasn’t stopped,” said Harvey, who gives out his cell phone number and always answers. Google was one of the callers, which is now his number one client. He made mini-donuts at the Salesforce holiday party where they birthed 24,000 donuts in three hours.
“I’m an interesting fellow,” Harvey said. “I see things other people don’t see. And I never look to make money – the money comes.” Most important? “I love what I’m doing and I make the best donut anyone has ever had.”