When considering what career to pursue, people are often advised to follow their dreams. It’s usually interpreted as a more philosophical piece of advice, but Jordan Cash, co-founder of Cartems Donuterie, actually had a dream one night and then followed it. Literally.
“I was in South Korea in 2002 and I actually dreamt that I owned a donut shop,” Cash recalls. “The donut shop’s name was Cartems in the dream, which is not a real word—that’s just what it was.” The idea stuck with Cash for almost a decade and followed him through a collage of careers including stock trading, tree planting, business development, and even chimney building. He started making donuts recreationally at home in 2010, and towards the end of the year, began shaping Cartems into a reality. “I started to realize that this idea was already happening in Seattle, Portland, and places similar to Vancouver,” says Cash. So he and his business partner Rajesh “Rags” Narine, now head chef at Cartems, moved forward with the donut dream, launching the first Cartems Dounuterie pop-up shop in 2012 (a third business partner, Craig Terry, joined shortly after the pop-up was held). Cash describes the process of getting Cartems off the ground as humbling and hard. “It quickly became a pretty big thing,” he recalls. “We were just in the kitchen all the time.”
Granville Island staple Lee’s Donuts has been touting the humble treat for years, but Cartems has helped grab Vancouver’s attention and exhibit that yes, an old dog—or rather, dessert—can learn new tricks. Cartems flavour options tend to skew toward the more modern, with offerings including Canadian whisky bacon, honey parmesan, and Earl Grey. There are also a handful of standby flavours such as vanilla bean, chocolate glaze, and the simply-titled The Classic. Soon after opening their little pop-up, Cartems began drawing a steady flow of customers. Once the trio realized that their sweet eats had a fighting chance, they began looking for a permanent location, eventually setting up on West Pender just outside of Gastown in 2013.
Then, four months ago, Cartems expanded operations to a second location in Mount Pleasant, on Main Street and East 6th Avenue. The space—designed by Tinto Creative’s Ricky Alvarez—is spacious and airy. High ceilings are accentuated by luscious hanging plants anchored by red cords; the use of light woods and white walls, coupled with generous windows, makes the room feel bright and warm. Suspended behind the counter hangs a geometric light fixture comprised of fluorescent tubes, adding a further sense of dimension, while a bar and communal table (with tree trunk stools) provide ample seating.
When it comes to creating the flavours, they “start with something crazy and filter it down to something that works,” explains Cash. “Originally it was a lot of trial and error.” When it comes to ingredients, locally sourced is the primary consideration: their flour comes from Anita’s Organic Mill in Chilliwack, and they get dairy from Birchwood in Abbotsford and Avalon in Burnaby. Even ingredients that don’t grow locally, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, are sourced as ethically as possible. “All of our spices come from this family on Cortes Island, the Harvey family, and their company is Gathering Place [Trading Company]—it has the most ethical sourcing practices I’ve ever seen,” Cash says. “Even if we can’t get it in B.C., we will try to find a local company that will source it for us. It’s really important for us.” Cartems shops also serve Elysian coffee, and Earnest Ice Cream is available by the scoop at the Main Street store, with take-home pints are available at both locations.
Cartems has solidified the donut’s place within Vancouver’s food scene, and the new outpost is a welcome addition to one of the city’s fastest growing neighbourhoods. The only question that remains is: half or whole dozen?