Devi’s Donuts and Sweets, a longtime vegan donut business in Long Beach, now has a physical shop for customers to stop in. But it all started 15 years ago, when owner Eva Ognibene learned a basic donut recipe from a friend.
Since then, Eva and her husband, Tom Ognibene, began making and crafting their own donuts for friends at parties and gatherings. After some time, the couple decided to start their own vegan donut business.
Tom and Eva have been together for 12 years and married for eight. They named their business Devi’s Donuts after one of their daughters, Vrinda Devi. In Sanskrit, the name Devi means “goddess” or “queen.”
Before coming to Long Beach, Tom and Eva were vegetarian and had been since birth. But after seeing how big the vegan movement was in the city, they were inspired to become vegans themselves.
“A lot of the time, people get the connotation that vegan is nasty,” Tom said. “They’ll hear vegan or plant-based and it’s like, ‘No, I’m good.’”
To avoid getting those reactions, he said that they don’t promote being vegan in their signs or advertisements.
“And when [those] people do try them, we get a lot of, ‘Hey, these are vegan? Really?'” Tom said.
With their sweets, the Ognibenes hope to get rid of the misconceptions surrounding plant-based foods.
“What I’m trying to do is let people know that, hey you can get good tasting vegan food,” Tom said.
When they first started Devi’s Donuts and Sweets in 2016, Tom was hopeful about their venture.
“My wife is an amazing cook,” Tom said. “Anything she puts her hands in, is delicious and turns to gold.”
However, he did have doubts and wondered if people other than themselves would actually like their vegan donuts.
But it turned out that people really did enjoy them.
Recently, while they were in Corona for Vegan Depot, the largest vegan farmers market in Southern California, Devi’s Donuts and Sweets sold out early on and brought customers from over an hour away.
“They said, ‘We wanted to try your doughnuts so bad. We live in Corona. And it would have been our first time trying your doughnuts. But you were sold out so we just decided to take the drive here,'” Tom said. “It’s humbling, to say the least. It’s very humbling and we’re very thankful for all the support.”
For six years, the couple had been operating their business at several farmers markets in Long Beach, such as Bixby Park and Marina.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Devi’s Donuts and Sweets, like many other small businesses, was affected. The farmers markets were closed, and because they didn’t have their store yet, the Ognibenes were unable to work.
“There was nothing,” Eva said. “For the first three, four months there was nothing. We were just at home and it was very depressing.”
It was tough for the family financially.
Their new store was in the process of being built when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Eva said that a lot of money had to go into the project and it was hard for them to continue without their farmers market each week.
Eventually, they were able to get some support from the community via a GoFundMe, receive COVID-relief assistance and they also took out loans to continue building their store.
Things didn’t pick up until May 2020, when they started doing online orders.
Now, at Devi’s Donuts and Sweets, Eva is making up to 300 donuts a day, by hand. On weekends, she makes up to 600 a day, which are always quick to sell out.
Since starting their business, one of the Ognibene’s main goals was to eventually have their own storefront one day.
That day finally came on April 21 when Devi’s Donuts and Sweets opened its doors to its brick-and-mortar location in Long Beach.
“To have a storefront, it’s amazing,” Tom said. “I mean, it’s surreal, you know? We’re here and we did it.”
Tom said that being able to open their doors is possibly the greatest memory he has associated with Devi’s Donuts and Sweets.
“This, finally being able to open our doors, is something that I’ll always remember and look back on,” Tom said.
In the future, the two hope to make more memories and achieve even more long-term goals, such as finding ways to give back to the community and being able to one day franchise and expand their business around the world.
But for now, the Ognibenes are content to be working for themselves and being together.
“Sure, we get on each other’s nerves sometimes and annoy each other, but being with my family every day, I couldn’t ask for more,” Tom said.