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Dark chocolate sea salt doughnut. Need we say more?

Leigh Kellis at her Park Avenue Holy Donut store, open since 2012.

GRETA RYBUS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Leigh Kellis at her Park Avenue Holy Donut store, open since 2012.

Felice Boucher photography

A stack of doughnuts.

PORTLAND — Spuds would seem an unlikely inspiration for delectable doughnuts. But when single mom Leigh Kellis decided to channel her passion for doughnuts into a business, it was a mashed potato-based batter that sparked her imagination.

Maine is one of the country’s top producers of potatoes, and Kellis calls the vegetable “a totally magical ingredient” that adds moisture and crumb to the light cakes. Potato doughnuts per se aren’t new — Kellis got the basics from a recipe in “The Joy of Cooking.” But she refined the recipe to create her own unique batter using all-natural ingredients and began tweaking it with imaginative flavor combinations, such as ginger-glazed sweet potato and Allen’s Coffee Brandy. She even makes a vegan cinnamon sugar doughnut and an old-fashioned plain for purists.

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After a few months working wholesale, Kellis opened a storefront in the Parkside neighborhood of here in 2012, and lines were quickly out the door and down the sidewalk. Last October, she opened a shop on Exchange Street in the city’s Old Port section, where she is meeting with similar success. With 15 employees between the two shops, The Holy Donut makes from scratch and hand cuts, shapes, and glazes roughly 3,500 doughnuts a day in about 24 different flavors. The ones we tried were undisputed winners, including their two most popular sellers – a zesty lemon that pops with fresh citrus, and the dark chocolate sea salt, which is glazed hot from the fryer and practically melts in your mouth.

But don’t stop with the tried and true. Kellis constantly brainstorms new flavors: a rainbow doughnut for Pride weekend, a whiskey and bacon for Father’s Day, even a lobster doughnut last summer. The bacon cheddar is a regular favorite.

In addition to its popularity among locals, The Holy Donut has become a “destination spot” for visitors to the city. But go early — some flavors sell out by noon. $1.84 each ($2 with tax), $10 for a half-dozen, $18 for a dozen.

THE HOLY DONUT 194 Park Ave., 207-874-7774, 7 Exchange St., 207-775-7776, Portland, Maine. Stores’ hours differ; opening daily between 6:30-8 a.m. until closing between 3-5 p.m. Check website www.theholydonut.com.

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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