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Partner, District Donuts
Chris Audler briskly moves around District: Donuts Sliders Brew, saying hi to regulars, most of whom he knows by name, and thinking out loud about why the most recent batch of kolaches weren’t amazing (we’re on the topic because I, too, frequent District, and usually buy a kolache). Audler, together with partners Aaron Vogel and Stephen Cali, has created a world of sorts on Magazine Street near Jackson Avenue, and that’s evident on the days when lines for the restaurant’s big, bready and topped-to-the-hilt doughnuts snake out the door. In December of last year they added to the District brand a hand pie shop (a contemporary successor to Hubig’s) and a food truck, all the profits from which go to a foster care charity. While District serves the kind of upscale junk food that’s made for the Instagram set (District has more than 24,000 followers on the platform), Audler, a beanpole of a person who remains buoyant even when one of his restaurants is swamped with people, is a Belle Chasse boy who went to Rummel and whose food memories were formed at the Metairie Houston’s.
Q: So, why doughnuts? It’s not like we had Grandma’s secret recipe for doughnuts and wanted to take it to the world. We just said, what do we think the neighborhood could use? What could add value? What’s not really being done in the city? And we thought: doughnuts. We could have fun with it, stretch some artisanal legs, but also make it approachable.
The space is 2,000 square feet: That’s a lot of space for just doughnuts. And secondly, doughnuts aren’t going to pay the bills for three people. What can we do that would go with doughnuts? We were out one night, and it was like a lightbulb. It was in front of our face the whole time. We all grew up in the area. Tastee Doughnuts was something we were all familiar with, and they have such a rich history – Al Copeland’s brother stared Tastee Doughnuts. Tastee did it on doughnuts and burgers – they did Kastle Burgers. [District] is foreign enough to where you won’t say, hey this is Tastee Doughnuts, but it’s something that’s been done before, somewhat familiar to the city, that has somewhat of a history in the city.
Q: Why were you interested in the food business? Even in high school I worked at restaurants. The easiest thing to do once I got to LSU was to work in a restaurant, so I ended up at Chimes, which was an amazing place to work when I was in college. I learned a ton and I really fell in love from a romantic standpoint with not necessarily the food business but with the Chimes. There was a certain culture the place had, a certain style – all these “culture-forward” companies you hear about, this place has it.
Houston’s, for me, I grew up going to the one in Metairie with my dad. He was kind of a foodie. Houston’s was kind of special occasion for us, and when I’d go with him he’d point out the food quality. These salad greens, this chicken, this consistency – and it really stuck with me. As I started having jobs and could go eat places, I started thinking about these things. After I got out of school, I thought, “Where would I like to go learn how to run a business?” Houston’s was on my list because they’ve done it really big, done it in a lot of states, they’re uber consistent, they have a culture, they really push super high quality across the board, it’s a scratch kitchen. I applied with them (and) that worked out well; got to move all around the country with them with my wife. So that was good exposure to see different things. It taught me that New Orleans isn’t so bad. Growing up here I was like, “I just wanna go live somewhere else.” We lived in a lot of different cities, and you start to appreciate really quickly … this city’s so familiar if you’ve grown up here. You imagine the grass is greener everywhere else — not true. You really have this culture here, you have these quirky things about this city.
Q: Tell me about some doughnut experiments that really didn’t work out. I’ve been working on a chicken and waffles-style doughnut, or a chicken and waffles option. We gotta pull this off. We’ve tried it with fries, tried it with a doughnut, we’ve tried a bunch of ways to pull off chicken and waffles. But nothing’s been amazing that we’ve tasted. So that’s one that’s haunting me. A snowball doughnut haunts me. We have to figure out a snowball doughnut, but we gotta figure out shaved iced and doughnuts and that’s not easy. Other botched ones: We burnt some doughnuts one time. We thought, we could try a savory option, make a play on blackened doughnuts. We made a blackening seasoning and what do you put on blackened redfish? A little hollandaise, maybe. Look, it’s a blackened doughnut. I think I put up four as a joke. People said, “These are awesome!” No they’re not. They’re disgusting.
Born/raised: Belle Chasse
Education: LSU School of Business
Family: wife Meghan; kids Wyatt (9) Hayes (6)
Favorite movie: “It’s probably a Guy Ritchie or Wes Anderson movie.”
Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones”
Favorite hobby: Playing basketball with my boys
Favorite restaurant: “I’m going with favorite food neighborhood: Lower Garden District.”
Favorite book: “I read Grantland, Lucky Peach and Harvard Business Review religiously.”
Favorite vacation spot: “A parallel universe where our nearby beaches also have food destinations.”
I have a recurring dream where I have incredible freestyle rap skills. The mornings following this dream are the best!