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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 17 April 2021

How burritos and doughnuts took over Dublin - and what you'll be eating next

As Aungier Danger announces the end of the road, what’s next for the capital’s food scene?

OVER THE PAST decade, we have witnessed countless food trends. Think avocado toast, cronuts, elaborate G&Ts, or bacon-infused desserts. They have inspired long queues, copycats, and thinkpieces galore. Some of the fads have endured while others have already faded into obscurity.

In Dublin, the two most dominant trends of late have undoubtedly been burritos and doughnuts. Walk down any street in the city centre and you will likely stumble across a shop hawking one or the other.

How did we get to this point? And have we reached burrito and doughnut saturation?

One for the road. #burrito

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Colm McNamara was working as a brand manager with Heineken Music when he first came across burritos at festivals. He had long harboured a dream of starting his own business and decided to give burritos a whack. He opened Pablo Picante, a California-style burrito bar, on Baggot Street in 2010.

“The idea for Pablo Picante as a name came when I discovered the world of Mexican wrestling - lucha libre – via the Jack Black movie Nacho Libre,” he explains.

Now eight years old, McNamara says the original Pablo Picante holds the honour of being the longest-running burrito joint in the city.

“There had been a Taco Taco burrito place in the old Epicurean Food Hall and a lady from Chicago had opened and closed the original Burritos & Blues in Ranelagh, but they were both gone by 2010,” he explains.

Things have changed dramatically since then. Dublin is now home to nine Boojums, four Toltecas, four Zambreros, four Saburritos, three Pablo Picantes, two Burritos & Blues, and two Little Ass Burrito Bars. And that’s before you take standalone ventures like Verde on Aungier Street and Mama’s Revenge near Trinity College into account.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of burritos. They’re cheap, convenient, and more substantial than a chicken fillet roll.

“I always maintain that burritos are great alternatives to the old school deli lunches that were the only options back in 2010,”says David Stone, owner of Burritos & Blues, which operates two branches in the city.

“In terms of flavour, value, wholesomeness and quality of ingredients there are few other comparisons.”

That’s not to say that burrito joints haven’t had to diversify their offering to keep up with emerging trends with many now offering healthy alternatives to the standard burrito.

“The burrito offering has had to adapt,” says Colm McNamara of Pablo Picante. “For example, burrito bowls and paleo options started to become very popular in 2012 and remain so.”

Indeed, he says that Pablo Picante has recently launched a vegan burrito, which contains “citrus-marinated tofu, fresh avocado chunks, paprika lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, borlotti beans, rice and salsa in a spinach flour tortilla”.

Both McNamara and Stone concede that we have likely reached ‘peak burrito,’ in terms of the numbers of burrito joints around town, but maintain it’s not a fleeting trend and that burritos are here to stay.

“In saying that, I can’t see any room for new outlets in Dublin City centre,” notes Stone. “With rents, key money and other costs increasing, it’s becoming harder and harder to compete.”

When Dubliners aren’t eating burritos, they’re treating themselves to gooey doughnuts.

Since 2015, the capital has been in the grips of doughnut mania with newfangled doughnut shops popping up left, right, and centre.

In October 2015, Aungier Danger, a hole-in-the-wall outlet on Aungier Street, opened for the first time. Owner Phil Costello had previously been involved with The Rolling Donut, owned and run by the Quinlan family.

When a proposed café venture with The Rolling Donut fell through, he decided to strike out on his own.

“I was given the opportunity to take over a lease that the Quinlan family no longer wanted on Aungier Street and to create my own brand and culture,” explains Costello.

“I guess I just decided it was time to Brooklyn-ise Dublin a little. There were no yeast-raised doughnut shops in Dublin since Dunkin Donuts pulled out back in the 90s and I strongly felt that we needed a good doughnut store.”

With its elaborate and catchily-named concoctions, Aungier Danger quickly became somewhat of a sensation. The shop would serve coffees and doughnuts, and pull the shutters down when they officially sold out for the day.

Good morning #MerrionRow #AungierDanger is #NowOpen

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Each new offering garnered press and publicity. There was the ‘weed’ doughnut, the Repeal doughnut, the Guinness doughnut – the list goes on.

Around the same time, other doughnut shops like The Rolling Donut, Offbeat, Boston Donuts and Revolution started opening their doors. Not long after, American chain Krispy Kreme announced that it was set to open a branch here. It seemed that Dubliners couldn’t get enough of the sugary treats.

So what was it about doughnuts that people latched on to?

S E L E C T I O N. #doughnuts #revolutionbakery

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Ken Coady opened Revolution, a bakery that specialises in brioche doughnuts, in Blackrock nearly four years ago. He says that nostalgia has played a role in the doughnut’s rise to prominence.

“I think a lot of people have childhood memories of eating doughnuts or have worked on a J1 visa during their summer holidays in the United States and it seems to bring back happy memories,” he posits.

Julie Baker of The Rolling Donut, which has been in business for the last forty years and now operates four branches across Dublin, surmises that social media has helped with their popularity.

“Social media has contributed massively to the donut boom in Dublin over the past while as we see them all over our social media channels at the moment and, as we know, people eat with their eyes,” she says.

“Nostalgia of our brand also plays a part – the kiosk donuts are a staple in any Dubliner’s diet,” she adds, referring to The Rolling Donut’s longstanding kiosk located on O’Connell Street.

The proliferation of doughnut shops in Dublin attracted widespread snark with many predicting that the boom would be short-lived. After all, how many doughnut shops can one city possibly sustain?

This week, Aungier Danger became the first notable casualty to the doughnut boom. At one point, the chain was operating three branches in the city centre, but this week they announced that they were “”officially hanging up the apron” and closing for good. (Last month, it was reported that the company had gone into liquidation.)

Owner Phil Costello reckons that doughnuts are done and dusted.

“My honest gut feeling is that Dublin as a community is over the doughnut boom,” he says.

I believe certain locations held by others will keep their heads afloat based on tourist footfall. I also think Krispy Kreme will find the market interesting upon their arrival. I wish the very best success to all.

Ken Coady of Revolution agrees that the bubble has burst.

“The ones that thought the doughnut path was paved with gold are already gone,” he notes.

That said, he’s confident about Revolution Bakery’s prospects.

“I think we will be okay. We do a lot more work making everything in house and putting quality and consistency over quantity. With that passion there is always a place for a premium doughnut.”

For her part, Julie Baker of The Rolling Donut thinks that innovation is the key to survival, something that the kiosk-turned-doughnut chain knows a thing or two about.

“It’s our 40th year in the doughnut business this year so hopefully we have many, many more to come,” she adds.

Finally, what’s next in the world of food trends?

Colm McNamara, Pablo Picante: “I think the next big thing will be poké. They combine exciting salad items with sashimi, making them more interesting than some of the salad chains and healthier than sushi. Shaka Poke and Nutbutter are the best I’ve tried.”

Julie Baker, The Rolling Donut: “Veganism is becoming increasingly popular and we even see this from how much more popular our vegan donuts are becoming. There are some amazing places in the city that have delicious vegan food as well like Tang and Umi, for example.”

David Stone, Burritos & Blues: “BBQ is one that comes to mind as well as a rebirth of the old-school Italian restaurants.”

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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