How Dublin's oldest doughnut shop used Instagram to reinvent itself

Photo courtesy of the Rolling Donut.

How Dublin's oldest doughnut shop used Instagram to reinvent itself

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How Dublin's oldest doughnut shop used Instagram to reinvent itself

The best doughnut in Dublin wasn’t always so fancy.

On a trip to London in the 1970s, Michael Quinlan first saw donuts being made from scratch and Ireland’s sweets scene changed forever.

Quinlan, who worked odd jobs during this difficult stretch in Ireland’s economy, didn’t have any dessert-making experience, but spoke with doughnut experts in the U.K. and tried and tested recipes until he got the traditional handmade doughnuts right. And in 1978, The Rolling Donut rolled out its soon-to-be iconic pastries on O’Connell Street, just steps from the River Liffey.

“He took pride in every single doughnut,” said Lisa Quinlan, Michael’s daughter who now runs The Rolling Donut with her sister Aimee. “He was very strict about that.”

The kiosk, which was originally supposed to be a part-time job for Michael as he struggled finding other work, became a Dublin institution, and according to Lisa, “It’s a unique little stand and everyone knows it.”

Up until 2016, the Rolling Donut only sold sugar, chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts (which are still available at the original kiosk, along with more contemporary flavors), but a desire to expand and rebrand brought in a slew of new flavors intended to appeal to a younger generation (think sourdough as well as Jameson-infused, marshmallow topped creations) and four more locations. Lisa, who grew up working at the kiosk and peddling the pastries at festivals and concerts, always knew she would be part of the family business, and as doughnuts became increasingly popular in Dublin City, she decided to expand and rebrand.

Lisa describes the shop’s new, constantly changing selection as “gourmet, but with a Dublin theme.” A version of the Boston cream is nicknamed The Dub, an apple cinnamon-stuffed creation is called the Molly Malone, and the Bailey’s Bliss is filled with boozy cream infused with the local liqueur of the same name. “We just make things we think people will really love,” Lisa said.

Beyond locally beloved ingredients, Lisa seeks inspiration from – where else – social media. “Instagram has been brilliant because you can see what everyone’s doing around the world and come up with your variation of it,” she said. Lisa and her head baker, Camille, put their own spin on trends, like salted caramel, which they made more visually appealing by adding a generous sprinkle of green pistachios on top of the homemade salty-sweet glaze.  

As Dublin’s oldest and longest-running doughnut shop, The Rolling Donut can lay claim to fame as starting the city’s doughnut revolution – and though many artisanal shops have opened in recent years, The Rolling Donut spreads its mission through above-and-beyond creations, like custom doughnut wedding cakes and edible walls for corporate events, photo shoots and parties.

Customers from all over the world line up for a doughnut from The Rolling Donut, ranging from local commuters grabbing a coffee and a sweet treat in the morning, Trinity students crowding into the Bachelor’s Walk shop to tourists from the states and Australia, eager for a bite of this “Dublin City icon.”

Vegan doughnuts, inspired by Dublin’s rising vegan scene, are also a big draw for tourists, as are the seductively jelly-dripping doughnuts, waiting for their Instagram close-up alongside their glazed and candy-topped counterparts.

Too lazy to roll on in? The Rolling Donut also delivers, further solidifying its status as the best doughnut shop in Dublin.

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