Michael Urban

Harold’s Doughnuts might not be here today if it weren’t for co-owner Michael Urban’s grandparents. Harold, Urban’s grandfather, was a small-business owner and entrepreneur. Urban’s grandmother loved to bake and passed her cookbook down to him.

With entrepreneurial spirit in the family and a cookbook recipe for a glazed yeast doughnut, Urban had the idea for Harold’s in January 2014. Urban and pastry chef* Melissa Poelling began Harold’s Doughnuts by running an online delivery service out of a rented commercial kitchen in south Columbia.*

Now, after two years in its storefront location, Harold’s features a complete kitchen with grab-and-go service, delivery and cooking classes — and it’s not done growing.

Urban sat down with Vox to talk about finding success in Columbia.

How do you create a positive working environment?

Our kitchen is completely exposed. We opened it up so that everyone who works here, even if you’re at an hour that doesn’t have customers coming in and out of the store, hopefully feels like they’re part of the larger effort. In another respect, it’s so customers can see we’re not doing mixed doughnuts. We make everything from scratch.

What do you have to do to put together a good team?

It takes an unyielding love of what you do, literally. Every day, you have to be excited and determined and enthusiastic to want to put together a team, to want to put together a business, to grow it and see the future and get into the day-to-day of what it takes to make a single doughnut, to make a thousand doughnuts. That dedication, that perseverance, is probably the most critical thing. If it waned, if I didn’t like doing this, it would reflect on the team, and they wouldn’t be motivated to come in and do what they do. We would just kind of fall flat.

How do you see Harold’s expanding in the next few years?

I’m not saying we’re going to be the next Chipotle or Shake Shack in the doughnut bakery world, but I do think there’s space for that. Burger shops are a dime a dozen across the U.S., but there was room for a Shake Shack. Doughnut shops are a dime a dozen across the U.S., but there’s room for a higher-end Dunkin’ Donuts. What Shake Shack is to McDonald’s, I think we could be to Dunkin’ Donuts. We’ve already come a long way from making a dozen doughnuts in my kitchen. I set really ambitious goals, and I want to go after them rigorously, aggressively. That’s the road map I’m following.

What do you hope customers take away from your baking classes other than learning how to bake?

More than anything else, I hope they take away that it’s okay to do what you love. We tell them about the story. If you’ve got an idea like that, no matter what it is, hopefully they walk out of here thinking: “Man, I can do this. I want to take a risk. I want to take a plunge into whatever it might be.”

Why do you love your craft?

I love it because I’m able to put a team together and empower them to do what they love. It satisfies me greatly to see someone who is comfortable in it full time. For them to be like, “I love this and being a part of what you helped build.” I love that. It’s amazing seeing the customers picking out doughnuts. They trust me to give them a good product.

What advice do you have for those who wish to start a small business?

I am a big believer in when you want to start something, when you have an idea for something, you act upon it and make it, whatever it is, and then put it out there. Get feedback. Don’t be scared to hold it in until you think you’ve got something right and perfect; it’s not going to be. So, to put it in doughnut terms: If I had this idea for a doughnut shop and made my first batch of doughnuts and only thought they were okay, if I didn’t give them to other people to get their feedback, if I waited forever to make the perfect doughnut ... I would probably still be trying to make the perfect doughnut.

*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Melissa's job title and where the delivery service began. 

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