Light fluffy doughnuts drenched in Belgian chocolate, rose-flavoured ice cream, toasted marshmallow coffee and French macarons. If your sweet tooth is aching with desire then head over to Ella&Karl to step into a world of sweet fantasies.
Odette van Aswegen, creator of Ella&Karl Whimsical Donuts, could be on a sugar rush. Surrounded by sweet decadence, one can’t blame her if she spends her day working her way through the doughnut pops and chocolate-covered rings that adorn the glass cabinets.
But it’s not a spike in blood sugar that has this Mbombelan giddy with excitement – it’s the world of possibilities that has opened up as a result of the runaway success of her gourmet doughnuts.
“The idea is to create something that you don’t get in Mbombela – not a mass-produced product, but something novel and gourmet, using only the finest ingredients. Our Belgian chocolate doughnuts are by far the most popular, but then we thought, why should you choose between that and ice cream? So we came up with a loaded doughnut that combines doughnuts with ice cream, chocolate sauce and Whispers sprinkled on top!” smiles Odette.
And while the focus for now is mostly on doughnuts, she has a myriad of plans and ideas to implement. “We started with black ice cream on Black Friday last year and will do a unicorn ice cream one week and rose or nougat the next, changing flavours weekly.”
The i’langa Mall stand opened in October last year and Odette shares that many of her customers are Gautengers who stop for dessert on their way to the Kruger National Park, after seeing her posts on Instagram. “Social media has played a major role in our marketing and popularity. We don’t do paid posts, because we get so much organic marketing. We have a lot of people who come and take photos that they post on Facebook and Instagram and that has really helped spread the word.”
Odette’s foray into the dessert world started in less happier circumstances, when her three-year-old son was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2018. “I was so scared to leave him alone, I just sat by his side the whole time. At night I started making sugar cookies just to keep busy and then decided to start selling them at a market. But I only sold two cookies!
“Then my father died suddenly in February last year and my mom and I just had to stay busy. So we started doing more markets, but this time with a dessert table with brownies, doughnuts and the cookies. We decided on the name Ella&Karl because they were our grandparents. The cookies and the ouma and oupa concept worked well together, so we stuck with that as an ode to them.
“The doughnuts sold out at our first market, and then the next. So I decided to focus on the doughnuts and see if I could get a retail premises. But no one wanted to give me space, because they said I wouldn’t make money. I then went another route and got a food truck with which I could do corporate events, weddings, markets and birthday parties. That became really popular and soon the shopping centres were phoning me to offer me retail space!”
In addition to the sweet treats, Ella&Karl offers flavoured coffees with imported syrups from France. Odette believes in quality above everything. “I don’t want chemical-tasting, scented flavours… so I believe in using the best ingredients I can find.
“Our doughnuts are priced higher than what you would get in a supermarket, but we sell gourmet, high-end products. Our macarons are imported from France and we only use Callebaut chocolate on our doughnuts, which also needs to be imported. If we use cheaper, local ingredients it defeats the idea of why we opened.
“When we started, we purposely decided not to go the mass-produced route of cheaper doughnuts that sell for R10 each. We are not in competition with Krispy Kreme or anyone else. Our mission is not to be average. Many people said this concept won’t work here, because it’s not Joburg or New York. But why must we tone done everything because it’s the Lowveld?!”
She enthuses that the retail environment gives you a platform to go with the seasons and the trends. “It’s Christmas, then Valentine’s then Easter – there is always some campaign running that prompts us to change and innovate. I am an interior designer by profession so I am creative by nature. I scaled down when I had children, but still needed a creative outlet and now Ella&Karl fulfils that.
“For the most part I have free range, so I can really let go with my creativity. I don’t copy what I see online, so I stay away from Pinterest and looking at ideas online. I want to come up with completely different ideas on my own. When someone says they need pink doughnuts, do what you like – that’s the best. Then I am not confined by anything other than colour.”
The Ella&Karl Whimsical Donuts stand is just the beginning and Odette is waiting for a store to go open in the mall to launch her dessert bar. “Then we can really go all out! We want to focus on mini desserts, like mini birthday cakes and individual portions. There are so many amazing things that a person can play around with. The possibilities are endless. It’s also a quick turnaround, so whatever you dream up today you can put into action tomorrow.”
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Text: LINDI BOTHA