Harry and Heels, from the team behind beloved neighbourhood pizzeria Fourth Man in the Fire along Dundas West, blesses Toronto with California-style donuts. Made from scratch, they're as addicting as they are eye-catching. Big, fluffy, oftentimes vibrant and most importantly -- tasty.
Owner Shant Mardirosian, the original founder of The Burger's Priest empire, always wanted to venture into the world of sweets by creating a donut shop inspired by his own memories of growing up in Los Angeles, indulging in California-style donuts. Initially wanting the concept to have a space of its own, separate from his American-style pizza joint, the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 motivated him to utilize the extra time and an empty dining room, to finally bring his idea to fruition. Fortunately (for us), pizza and donuts are a great combination.
Stripping away the tables and chairs, the olive green room was left transformed throughout 2021, into a spacious donut prep space, equipped for rolling, frying, glazing and decorating. Donut production right by their big glass windows easily caught the gaze of passersby, both curious and tempted to get their hands on one, quickly making them a neighbourhood favourite. Since restaurants have reopened, the dining room is back with a donut station in the kitchen; however, the instalment of a shiny new display case by the door allows them to present their donuts, up to 18 varieties at a time, in an equally striking manner.
"This is a traditional donut; there is no gourmet aspect to it," Mardirosian says. "It's like Krispy Kreme on steroids. It's really soft, really flavourful, it stays soft for 2 three days."
At its core, what makes these donuts stand out most is their dough. Flavours, toppings and fillings are purposefully simple and do their job of keeping the spotlight on how special their base is. Texture and flavour of the dough itself is prioritized and you definitely taste that focus in every bite. No dense donuts here.
"You're not going to find like earl grey tea flavour or stuff like that. You're just going to find the traditional flavours done well," says Mardirosian. "That's the same thing I've done with everything, like Burger's Priest was just a simple burger done well, Fourth Man in the Fire is just an American delivery pizza done well and these donuts are the same thing."
The judge of every great donut spot is how indulgent their simplest donut is. You can't quite get simpler than an Original Glaze. Like all of their donuts, the glazes used are made with pure milk. Everything is made from scratch here, so you know it's going to be good.
Bringing back some childhood nostalgia, Harry and Heels has a Fruity Pebbles donut too. Colourful, crispy and coated in cereal, it makes for the picture-perfect bite.
Amongst a plethora of tempting donut varieties, take a chance on the Buttermilk Bar. A new addition to the line-up, Mardirosian bets you won't be able to find it anywhere else in the country, as it's a very "California thing." Not in your typical donut shape, the buttermilk bar is glazed with a crispy exterior, while still maintaining a very soft inside.
One of the most popular options from the beginning, is their Apple Fritter. Thick, full of apple chunks and sure to include a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, you wouldn't want to skip adding at least one of these to your order, assuming they're still available, of course.
A favourite of the owner, Mardirosian notes how he enjoys the Chocolate Cream Filled donut because it reminds him of an éclair. Stuffed with lush vanilla cream made in-house, using their secret recipe, if you're not a fan of the French pastry's choux dough, surely this is the next best thing.
Alternatively, the Coconut Cream Filled donut is stuffed with a house-made coconut cream -- for fans of Fourth Man in the Fire's iconic coconut cream pie of course. Mardirosian compares these cream-filled donuts to a Twinkie. They're equally as addicting and such a treat.
Cream is not the only filling variety available. Still sticking to the classics, Harry and Heels has three jelly-filled donuts available -- cherry, strawberry and blueberry. Exploding with filling, you better have a napkin ready to best prepare for your first bite.
Remaining on brand for Mardirosian, the name of the concept "Harry and Heels" stems from a biblical reference. Inspired by the story of Jacob, whose name translates to heel grabber or deceiver in Hebrew and his twin brother Esau, whose name translates to being hairy, Mardirosian went with the name Harry and Heels to reference their dynamic.
"Burger's Priest, Fourth Man in the Fire, it's always been a biblical kind of theme to it. So Harry and Heels is the same, but it's just more playful," he says. "In the story, there's always sibling rivalry because they're in the womb together and they're twins. Harry came out first and Jacob, the heel grabber, was grabbing his heel, trying to get out first. So when you look at the logo, you'll see a heel grab. It's just a playful, fun, biblical theme."
With the allowance for indoor dining again, Mardirosian is getting the coffee machine running and opened up the Fourth Man in the Fire space to allow for customers to come sit down and enjoy their donuts too. Donuts, coffee, pizza -- what more could you ask for?
With goals for an Uptown location in the works, the entrepreneur aims to continue to keep expanding his new concept across the city. It's a venture capable of achieving Burger's Priest fame -- it's only a matter of when.
Harry and Heels California Donuts is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. until they sell out. Conveniently, Fourth Man in the Fire is open Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday from 12 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., so you can get that pizza and donut fix satisfied. Be sure to check out Harry and Heels on Instagram for reminders to treat yourself to a donut and be the first to find out where they'll be popping up next.