Lansdowne Street has a new after-hours hangout: Back Door Donuts will open inside Loretta’s Last Call on Thursday, March 15. The Martha’s Vineyard original has eased islanders’ hangovers for years as part of the Front Bakery Café, where hungry night-crawlers would line up at the back door and peer into the kitchen. Tyler Heineman, 28, is Back Door’s general manager. While feeding doughnuts to the Fenway masses until 2 a.m. might seem like a daunting job, this New Jersey native and veteran of Bell in Hand, Game On, and Bleacher Bar can probably handle it. Just follow the “Donuts After Dark” sign, and don’t tap your credit card on the counter.
Patrick Lyons, who owns the Lyons Group, has a lot of venues in the Fenway. A few years ago, he and two of his buddies decided to buy Back Door Donuts, which has a long history on the Vineyard, starting out as just a bakery in the front. People were banging on the back door, which goes right into the kitchen, walking home from work or the bar or the beach, asking for doughnuts.
When Patrick bought it, it became a little bit more legitimized. They recognize how much this brand identified with not only Vineyard people but people all over — kind of a cult following. They wanted to grow that brand. The Boston connection was an obvious one, with late-night crowds and people getting out of baseball games, and the new concert venue there now [MGM Music Hall].
How did you get into the doughnut game?
I went to Suffolk University as a business major, but I worked in kitchens in high school. Both of my parents are in hospitality. My dad still works in hotels these days. I worked at many different bars in Boston, from the Bell in Hand to the Red Hat to McGreevy’s, all over the place, just doing every bar job around to get some money for college.
Toward the end of school, I started as bar manager at Game On and then moved up to the GM of Bleacher Bar, when COVID happened. Everything was shut down. And I had an opportunity to go down to Martha’s Vineyard and take over the doughnut shop. I learned the ropes for a couple of years, got the operations down, and made sure that it was running well. Then we took steps to expand the brand to Boston.
Why food and bars?
My parents are both pretty good cooks. Both would throw a good dinner party. I always enjoyed being in the kitchen. My first job was at an Irish bar in New Jersey. I was a short-order cook. At the same time, I learned how to tap kegs and play pool and all that good stuff. I just like the environment of people who are coming into bars, coming to hang out, chatting with people, and talking sports for sure.
You’ve worked at some interesting places. How would you describe Boston’s nightlife scene?
You know, we’re looking for people stumbling out of the bars, looking for hot doughnuts. I worked at a bunch of those bars. And it’s crazy! A lot of college kids. Long lines. A lot of people wearing T-shirts in the middle of February, waiting an hour in line because they’re really ready to drink.
How did COVID impact all this?
Lansdowne Street definitely changed, obviously. It’s been a big transition. They’ve had to really figure out creative ways to get people in. Now that the world is back, I think people are just full-fledged ready to be crazy animals. All rules are out. I think bars are pushing the limits, and you can definitely see that on Lansdowne Street with capacities and live music, whether it’s a music festival on the street or just DJs in the venues. They’re doing a good job at really packing those places. You’ve just got to watch out for some fights. But that’s what security is for.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever witnessed late at night?
I’ve been punched. I’ve been bitten. I’ve been slapped. I’ve had glasses thrown at me. I have videos from the cameras. I would say, it’s the Sunday 1 o’clock Red Sox games. People start drinking a little earlier than they’re used to. They get out of the game, and they’re feeling pretty good — and then they have a couple more, and they get a little mean.
What should people know about these doughnuts?
It’s an awesome spot. I encourage people to go down to the Vineyard. It’s a cool little community; there’s a cool vibe in Oak Bluffs. It’s a bakery in the morning. Now we’ve got a cool front store; we sell some merch and obviously some good coffee and other pastries besides doughnuts. So that’s bustling during the day. It’s a nice little spot. People go before the beach or after the beach, whatever it may be.
And then at night it becomes kind of an event for people, especially teenagers and younger kids. There’s a line, whether they’re going after dinner, or a little later at night, you smell the doughnuts from down the street coming right out of the kitchen. We open the back door, and usually the lines start at 6 but we don’t open the doors till 7. We’re just cranking out hot doughnuts for people all night long.
Later in the night, it gets a little more rowdy, a little more fun. We try and keep it under control. And it’s funny, because we’re just selling doughnuts. We don’t sell beers or anything like that. So people bring their own fun, and we just supply the treats and stuff like that. But it’s kind of a fun event for a lot of people.
As I’m sure you know, Bostonians have very definitive ideas about doughnuts. Describe yours.
Hot and fresh. We never sell our doughnuts the next day. Our signature item is definitely the apple fritter. We sold over like 60,000 of those last summer. And that’s just in five months’ time, seasonally. We do have yeast and cake doughnuts. The honey dips and the party sprinkle ones are very popular, as well as the maple bacon. Buttercrunch, similar to a Butterfinger, there’s a cult following for that one. We have chocolate, chocolate coconut, and then we have three filled doughnuts: Boston creme, as well as raspberry- and lemon-filled. We keep it relatively simple. We don’t want to overcraze people with peanut butter and pretzels on doughnuts. It’s going to be really fresh, it’s going to be hot, and one of the best doughnuts you’ve had.
How’s the food scene on the Vineyard different from Boston?
It’s a little bit night and day. Hours are different; a lot of places shut down in October. At most places, kitchens are closed at 9 or 10.
My biggest thing is the service. It’s tough because I get it: You’re hiring seasonally, and the busy season never stops down there, so you’re trying to train people when it’s super busy, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. Obviously, there’s a lot less turnover in Boston, so you can focus on training a little bit more and having a little bit more consistent staff and consistent products. I love the Boston food scene. There’s always something popping up. But I’m a big dive bar guy. I like to find the greasy spots and don’t try to get too fancy.
That was going to be my next question. What are your favorite Boston spots? And what are your favorite Vineyard spots?
On the Vineyard, my favorite spot is Lookout Tavern. They’re right by the ferry. I’ve gotten to know the bartenders. They’re all awesome. They do sushi there, and the sushi chefs do a hell of a job. Just good bar food. Really good vibe. They put on the sports games without you asking. I don’t want to walk into a bar and see the news on; I hate that.
In Boston, I have friends who live all over now. We sometimes will end up at Lucky’s. I have some friends who work at Kings. Dillon’s is a really cool spot over on Boylston. It’s a good date spot if you’re looking for that. As far as food spots, JM Curley is one of my favorite spots downtown with a really good burger. They show old movies on the TV. Carmelina’s in the North End does a great job. It’s nice to be able to get a table there. Little spots like that. Daily Catch is also good, next door. Little divey spots where you’ve got to wait in line.
Any dos and don’ts for getting a bartender’s attention?
It’s tough. Different bartenders like different things. Don’t tap your card on the bar. Don’t wave like you’re in class — they don’t like that. Yelling “hey” is no good. “Excuse me” can be used sometimes. But, really, I think you’re just trying to get the eyes, and then you can’t hesitate, especially if you’re at a really busy bar. If they’re three or four deep, they’ve got three or four orders already in their head, so be ready to order. That’s the biggest thing. And have your money ready.
Favorite hangover cure, besides doughnuts?
Definitely just a breakfast sandwich and a Gatorade. Funny enough, working at a bakery, I’ve never really been a coffee drinker. Can I just say more booze?
Favorite guilty pleasure food?
Buffalo wings or buffalo chicken tenders or pizza.
Coming from the New York area, you must have pretty strong ideas about what makes a good pizza.
I’m a little bit of a snob for sure when it comes to bagels and pizza. Some places you get the slice, and it’s not as good as the pie. I really liked the slice at Pushcart, which was a spot, I don’t know if it’s still there, on Salem Street. Ernesto’s is a good slice as well. One of my favorite pizzas is Figs by Todd English on Charles Street. They do a Brooklyn-style pizza that’s really, really good. Santarpio’s is a little overrated, in my opinion, and you’ve got to go there to get it. I think if you’re there, it’s good. You can’t get it to go.
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.