Rock Springs’ Cowboy Donuts is only three years old, but will be featured on a new bake-off show called “Donut Showdown.” (Photo courtesy Cowboy Donuts — click to enlarge)
Rock Springs’ Cowboy Donuts is only three years old, but will be featured on a new bake-off show called “Donut Showdown.” (Photo courtesy Cowboy Donuts — click to enlarge)

Rock Springs donut shop featured on bake-off show

— September 3, 2013

It was meant to be a classic small-town family business in Rock Springs. A way for father and son-in-law to provide for their families and feel pride in their work — and also to be able to get a fresh donut in town.

Kelsey Dayton

They had no baking experience, but they thought they’d give it a go. Less than two years after Cowboy Donuts opened in Rock Springs the owners answered a call from the Food Network asking if they’d be interested in a new baking competition show called “Donut Showdown.”

Derek Johnson and Jay Hammond dreamt up Cowboy Donuts a few years ago sitting in the Hammond’s kitchen in Rock Springs. Hammond had moved his family to Wyoming from Texas years earlier to work in oil and gas, but lost his job.

Johnson, originally from Green River, was finishing up a degree in business. They knew they wanted to start a business together, they just didn’t know what kind. The two had no background in cooking or baking, but they loved to eat. They’d meet and talk about business options — a bike shop, a tire shop, a hobby store — while eating kolaches, dough stuff with sausages, ham and cheese, a staple in the many donut shops in Texas. While they ate they’d lament the lack of a donut shop in Rock Springs and the plan suddenly became obvious.

Cowboy Donuts in Rock Springs makes special kid donuts, dreamt up by preschoolers who visited the shop. (Photo courtesy Cowboy Donuts — click to enlarge)

They hooked up a turkey fryer in the garage, running an extension cord through Hammond’s house, and began to experiment with recipes and ideas they found online. They baked in the garage for nine months, burning out Hammond’s wife’s Kitchen Aid mixer, before they were ready to open Cowboy Donuts in March 2011.

They opened with dozens of donut variations from the classics like a chocolate cake donut, to specialty items like “Death by Blueberry,” a cake donut baked with fresh blueberries, fried and then covered in a blueberry glaze and the topped with blueberry icing. They also baked kolaches.

Soon customers were making suggestions. Could you do something with German chocolate? They created a devil’s food cake donut with German chocolate icing that looks like a bird’s nest. What about something savory? They invented their maple bacon donut, with maple icing and bacon bits on top.

When giving tours to preschool kids they offered to let the kids decorate a donut. Instead of sprinkles, they asked for Fruit Loops and said they wished they could add gummy bears. Now on Fridays and Saturdays the shop offers a selection of kids donuts with those toppings and others like Oreo cookies.

There are seasonal options like pumpkin spice cake donuts with cream cheese frosting in the fall and red velvet donuts in the winter. Their repertoire now includes about 60 different donuts or variations including Johnson’s favorite, the Turtle donut, a raised donut topped with milk chocolate ganache icing and cinnamon candied pecans and garnished with a drizzling of homemade caramel sauce.

During the National High Schools Final Rodeo in Rock Springs in 2012 they sold donuts from a wagon they pulled through the campgrounds and set up in front of the arena. Johnson doesn’t know how many they sold or how many hands they shook, but a few months later they got a call.

Someone at the rodeo had tried a donut and had some connection to the Food Network, which was developing a bake-off show centered on donuts. Would Cowboy Donuts be interested in flying to Toronto and competing on “Donut Showdown?”

The contest pits the three teams against each other in two surprise challenges.

Johnson and his wife, a full-time nurse who acted as his assistant for the contest, flew to Canada. Cowboy Donuts faced a team from Nebraska specializing in gourmet donuts, and a team from Toronto led by a pastry chef with 30 years of experience.

“To say we were the underdogs is an understatement,” he said.

They were challenged to create a donut with a secret ingredient and then a donut that fit the given theme “love.” At the end of the episode there is a winner and each episode features three new teams.

The show aired in Canada and Cowboy Donuts had a special showing at the local theater in Rock Springs.

The rest of Wyoming can see the show September 18 at 8 p.m. on the Cooking Channel.

Johnson doesn’t want to give away how he places in the show. You’ll have to watch to find out — but the craziness and stress portrayed on the show is real — as real as the donuts. You can verify that yourself next time you are in Rock Springs.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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