Arwyn Birch wakes up at 4 a.m. on most days. The woman beside her unlocking the doors is Teresa Fox. They flick a switch. Lights they designed themselves hit the award plaques on the walls. Feature story after feature story hang beside them, including an article from the Wall Street Journal which touts their business as part of “the ultimate weekend in Minneapolis.” Slightly more than two winters since they opened their doors for the first time, Glam Doll Donuts has become a local and national institution.
Behind the counter, Teresa pulls her platinum curls into a red bandanna, her tattoo sleeves peeking out under a bright, tailored dress. She calls out to Arwyn with a joke about the labia-shaped donuts they created for a Smitten Kitten event. Arwyn laughs. She almost resembles her Tolkienian namesake except for the line of sharp, modern bangs across her forehead. Before the morning rush, Teresa and Arwyn will spend their time filling special orders, answering emails from press outlets, and making jokes, slightly sleep-deprived. Later, they will scout out a possible new location in St. Paul.
The women are unlikely entrepreneurs, in the stodgy, old-fashioned sense of the word. Following a long fight for funding, as well as three years of condescending looks from male solicitors who often didn’t believe they were the owners, the women now handle every element surrounding Glam Doll. Each woman has maintained belief in the other, and that has been enough to inspire them to do something big together.
The idea was a lifetime in the making. The entrepreneurs have been best friends for 25 years. As their business grew, they created a new vision of themselves.
Three years ago, the pair took a road trip to the Pacific Northwest, bankrolled by money that came from refinancing Teresa’s home. She planned to do two things with that money: take her best friend on a road trip and redo her kitchen. Speeding through the upper part of the country for 24 hours, at one of the lower points of their lives, the women decided when they got back to Minneapolis they needed to make a change.
By the time the pair returned to Minneapolis, Glam Doll had already set a fire between them, melding their history into a plan. Donuts would be the medium. A combination of radical and comforting flavors they picked up in restaurant jobs over the years informed the menu. Vintage clothing racks and pin-up images inspired the donut shop’s atmosphere — throwback chic.
Friends and relatives didn’t see it. How would the two make their business stand out in a sea of Twin Cities bakeries and coffee shops? How could Arwyn’s eye for fashion and Teresa’s love of rock ’n’ roll be put on a tray of pastries? Even Arwyn’s 90-year-old grandmother asked, “What do donuts have to do with design, anyway?”
“This store helps us make sense to our community.”
But Arwyn and Teresa found success, and with it they began to take more risks with their leadership style and the tone of their dress. They wore more elaborate ensembles and “hit the lipstick hard.” Teresa and Arwyn can’t be separated from the brand. The brand is more addictive than the donuts.
In their early 20s, the pair defined success by romantic relationships. Now, the women are in their 30s, single, and with a booming business. They are not eager to get married or start having babies. They live a 10-minute walk from the storefront, a floor apart, in the same building. But they say their home and their family lives in that little shop. This is what success looks like for them, and they didn’t dare dream it until much later in their lives. Why not? As young women, artists, and servers, they had few success stories to follow. But once they started, they couldn’t stop.
Teresa develops the menu, controls branding and media relations, and takes the lead on big picture moves, such as their collaboration with First Ave to create custom donuts for big artists coming through — a deal originating from their time serving Rhymesayers members late-night fries at the Uptowner.
Arwyn’s devil is in the details: designing logos and curating the look and feel of the space — down to the last drop of frosting she hand-pipes on special orders.
Managing employees falls into a natural rhythm when they recall their bittersweet past as servers. “We’ve been there.” They admit they weren’t perfect bosses at first, but through experimentation they developed a detailed on-boarding system for new hires, and a good-cop/bad-cop system for slip-ups (more like a direct-critique-cop/ sweet-request-cop system, they will assure you). Even in 14-hour days, Arwyn and Teresa still make time for each other. The two run errands together. They know each others’ strengths. They have each others’ backs. When things get heated at work the duo send each other mental telepathic notes to cool off. They step outside together, sit on a bench, and think. When they walk in their store from the back and look in, they remember that at the end of the day, its just a pile of donuts in a glass case. What do donuts have to do with Glam Doll? They have been a medium of self-expression, self-worth, self-employment, and staff empowerment.