It’s 9:00am and the Granville Island Public Market has just opened. You’ve got to love the hum of a market in the morning. There is rhythm, routine, a hint of excitement for what the day may hold.
Days at Lee’s Donuts begin around 5:30am, when the Master Donut Makers arrive to prep the day’s dough. With a beaming smile as warm as their honey-dipped donuts, Head Baker, Alvin, says this is his 34th year working at Lee’s.
Behind the counter at the iconic donut shop, there’s a space no bigger than a compact, two car garage. Lee’s Donuts is one of the few remaining vendors at the Granville Island Public Market that still does 100% of their production on site.
In one corner, Alvin works the dough with deft precision, earning the admiration of those peering through the window.
Just steps away, Alvin’s childhood friend, Carol, is putting the final touches on some chocolate sprinkle donuts. Today, she’s (literally) got her donut shoes on. Carol is the Manager of Lee’s Donuts and the owner of all things donuts. Donut glasses, donut luggage, donut floaties…she’s got the goods.
Carol is the decorator extraordinaire – certainly when it comes to the donuts and also when there’s seasonal touches needed around the shop.
Between laughs, Carol says Alvin is just the same now as when they were kids.
And then Betty-Ann Lee arrives. Betty-Ann Lee who started the shop with her husband. The one who laid the tiled floors by hand. She’s running late and apologizes profusely. But all is well in her little shop, and her eyes twinkle as see surveys the scene before her.
Despite her petite stature, Betty-Ann lifts the donut tray out of the hot fryer, quickly flipping them “right-side up” before they get their glaze.
Then, with the power only a donut queen could yield, she grips a device aptly named “The Icing-nator.” In three effortless swoops, this batch of honey-dipped donuts is ready to make its debut.
It’s been 38 years on Granville Island for Betty-Ann; when she and Alan Lee first opened, the Public Market was just beginning. Within her team, it has been decades of working side-by-side.
And while Vancouverites, young and old, will profess that Lee’s Donuts is a cornerstone of the city, their greatest impact on the community isn’t actually edible.
Day after day, the crew at Lee’s Donuts delivers the very same. While they are perfectionists in their work, they are exceptionally genuine people in their lives. They love their craft. They love their city. And they love their customers, each and every one.
“Granville Island was built as a community market and we have to retain that. We love our regular customers. We have customers from 1979! And our visitors – we love them. We love to hear where they are from and tell them about the market and our home.”
– Betty-Ann Lee
The locals, they know by name; it’s been years, after all. But no matter who you are, the people at Lee’s give you that warm and friendly service that has become a trademark of Canadian culture.
And perhaps, this is the secret: amid the daily hubbub, a smile and cordial conversation is exactly what gives the Granville Island Public Market its charm.
At Lee’s, you’re guaranteed a nostalgic visit to a sweeter, simpler time, paired with an old fashioned donut you’ll never forget.
5 FOODIE INSIDER TIPS
1. The Honey-Dipped Donut is their most popular donut. It’s light, fluffy, and melts in your mouth.
2. To get a perfectly-time Honey-Dipped Donut, fresh outta the fryer, join the “Granville Island Market Tour” at 10:30am or 1:30pm.
3. Keep your eyes peeled when you visit…Lee’s Donuts are a guilty pleasure for a few Hollywood celebrities! You’ll sometimes even see Lee’s prepping big orders for movie crews who have called ahead.
4. For the ultimate selection of flavours, the shelves are fully stocked around 10:00am, daily.
5. A lesser-known local secret: Not only are the donuts are amazing…Lee’s giant cinnamon buns are out of this world!
In partnership with Edible Canada, 2017 marks our 12 Year Anniversary of the Granville Island Market Tour.
This article is part of a 12-week series that honours the stories of #CanadasMarket.
Learn more about the Granville Island Market Tour.