Let’s get one thing straight: Not A Donut does indeed serve doughnuts, just not the kind most North American fried dough connoisseurs are familiar with. The small shop on Langside Street specializes in mochi doughnuts, cute flower-shaped rings with a soft, chewy texture thanks to the addition of glutinous rice flour.
It’s a nostalgic dessert for owner Echo Shen.
"I tried it when I was back in Shanghai when I was little," says Shen, who moved to Canada from China for school. "I had it for the first time and couldn’t forget it — it’s so good, it’s not like the regular doughnuts."
Mochi doughnuts were popularized in Japan by the Mister Donuts chain, which calls them "pon de ring," and have recently gained a following elsewhere. Shen and her boyfriend Mumu Ma, who co-owns the business, saw an opportunity with the growing trend.
"There were a lot of mochi doughnut shops opening in the (United States)," Shen says. "We were really excited, we wanted to bring it to Canada."
Not A Donut is the couple’s second eatery. They opened Not A Waffle at 353 Langside St. in 2018, selling an assortment of Asian street food, drinks and ice cream served in a fish-shaped cone called taiyaki. This summer, they moved the latter into a storefront on Corydon and turned their downtown location into a small-scale doughnut factory — although, they still offer a wide selection of smoothies and teas; favourite menu items of the university students who frequent the shop.
Expanding during a pandemic took patience. Construction and renovations were delayed by demand and customer traffic has been slow to return. Things are looking up, though — the nearby University of Winnipeg has reopened its campus and the Corydon strip is buzzing again with diners.
For Ma and Shen, running two shops has come with an unexpected perk.
"When we stay in the one shop we always argue," she says with a laugh. "Because we see each other every day. Now, he’s here and I’m there, so it’s actually pretty good."
Since Not A Donut is one of the first places in Winnipeg to offer mochi doughnuts, the couple has been looking for creative ways to get the word out about their product. They’ve recently teamed up with The Icing Castle, a dessert shop in The Maples, to sell their doughnuts at that location.
"A lot of our customers are also coming from that area," Shen says. "So we’re going to work with them and have our display case and doughnuts over there."
The pair also have plans to sell mochi doughnuts at a sushi restaurant in the St. Vital area and are hoping to bring the desserts to markets and craft sales in the future. The long-term goal is to open another brick and mortar restaurant that combines the Not A Waffle and Not A Donut concepts.
Ma is usually in the shop by 7 a.m. to make the day’s batch of treats — because of their texture, mochi doughnuts are best consumed day-of. His favourite flavour is the Fruity Pebbles variety, a glazed doughnut topped with cereal, while Shen prefers classic flavours, such as chocolate. The owners switch up the menu regularly and try to include a variety of Asian-inspired flavours — such as matcha, ube and yuzu — along with staples, such as sprinkles and coconut.
Not A Donut is open Tuesday through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit notadonut.ca for weekly flavour listings and to place an order.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.