The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.
The signature pink box might be the first thing to catch your eye as you walk through Heinen’s bakery department. But it will be the contents – plump, delicious donuts brought to you in a unique partnership between Heinen’s and Chicago’s own Stan’s Donuts & Coffee – that really put a smile on your face.
Available in five tempting flavors – including vanilla old-fashioned, glazed apple fritter, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, vanilla cake with white icing and sprinkles and a raspberry-filled Bismarck – these glossy temptations are the next-best thing to stopping in at one of Stan’s Chicago-area location, fixtures in the region since 2014.
That was the year that long-time entrepreneur, bakery owner and breadsmith, Rich Labriola (current title, “Chief Doughboy”), brought the donut business to Chicago from Los Angeles, as the result of a friendship and partnership with Stan Berman, founder of the iconic LA shop that bore his name. (The last remaining location of Berman’s LA shops shuttered during the COVID crisis.)
“I had seen Stan on a travel show featuring the top donuts in the U.S,” Rich recalls. “Something about him just spoke to me, and I picked up the phone and gave him a call.” Rich wasn’t the first would-be donut maker to contact Stan, and initially the older man was skeptical of Rich’s intentions. “But I already was a baker,” Rich explains, referring to his years as a successful wholesale breadmaker and business owner in Chicago. “That helped solidify the relationship, and when I decided to sell my bread business, we rekindled our connection.”
Rich describes the relationship as “a licensing agreement between two strangers who had trust in each other.” And the move to Chicago was Rich’s opportunity to enhance an already popular product, employing the highest-quality ingredients and emphasizing rich flavor notes like butter and pure vanilla.
“Breadmaking had been my passion for a very long time, and I took pride in the fact that I got very good at it,” Rich says, adding that he was eager to apply that knowledge to making exceptional donuts. “We took what Stan was doing and we elaborated on it … His donuts were already very good: We just upped the level a little bit.”
Since its Midwest launch, Stan’s Donuts also evolved into a more well-rounded business concept, Rich says, with a chain of shops featuring extensive coffee menus, breakfast options and between 50 and 60 varieties of donuts. The physical space has gotten an eye-catching update as well, with a sleek, European-style design and a stylish logo in the signature pink.
Until recently, though, most Midwestern donut fans wishing to sink their teeth into Stan’s fresh products had to travel to one of the 14 shops that now punctuate the greater-Chicago food scene, or order online. But in a first-of-its-kind move for both the baker and the grocer, last year Stan’s and Heinen’s entered into a co-branding partnership, bringing Stan’s unique products right into your neighborhood store. The first pink boxes of Stan’s Donuts took their place on Heinen’s shelves in April of this year.
For Rich, the relationship has been gratifying. “Heinen’s is one of the top grocers in the country. We love their stores, we appreciate the type of service they provide, and this has been a real incentive to work with them.”
And for Heinen’s customers, Rich says, the partnership brings a fresh, unique, high-quality product to the grocer’s shelves. It’s a reflection of Stan’s simple goal, Rich says. “We want to be the best. Not the biggest. Not the cheapest. Just the best. That’s our mission.”