by Taylor Torregano
As the morning
progressed into three hours after its 7 a.m. opening, Campbell's Psycho Donuts seemed as though it was beginning to wind down.
The morning rush gave way to a steady stream of sweet-toothed customers who get an eye-opening show with their donuts.
Two donuts here may cost as much as a dozen elsewhere, but nowhere else will you find donuts that break all the molds, with crazed varieties made with bacon, Foie gras and the wild future fantasies of the world premiere psycho donut chef, Thai Green Curry or lobster macaroni and cheese--all with a Halloween-like horror theme.
The aroma alone is enough to make
your imagination wander to the deepest depths of indulgences. The mouth-watering sight and smell of fried dough, caramel and sweets heaven meets every
visitor at the door, followed by a friendly greeting from ‘Psycho Nurses’
behind the donut display.
As donut lovers decide what they want, nurses behind the counter offer loud-popping bubble wrap to help with ‘donut selection stress anxiety.’ A quick look at their costumes, the donut choices and the adornment of the store provides an instant explanation for the name, ‘Psycho Donuts.’
“Why do something everyone else is doing?” asked general manager and pastry designer Ron Levi, 48. “I want to be creative and controversial and have fun. There’s no money in it so you have to love it,” he laughed.
His creativity has been honored with an award from the show Donut Showdown on the Food Network last year.
It’s hard to believe a man with such talent and creativity never went to culinary school. Growing up in Canada, Ron started in fast food at Wendy’s when he was just 13. He moved up to a seafood restaurant first working as a busboy and then in an entry level kitchen job. Working his way up in that kitchen, he learned all of his basics for cooking.
Ron then moved to California but couldn’t find permanent residency so went back to Canada for a year- that’s where he got a job in a couple of different donut shops learning techniques and how to be a baker. When he came back to the U.S. he worked at a small cafe in Los Gatos. From there, he went into high tech for a few years but hated it so returned to the world of cooking. He found a bar that wasn’t using their kitchen in San Francisco and opened his own restaurant called The Gavel. When a chef looking for work came in, Ron hired him before even knowing that he was an award-winning cook from Europe.
After closing this location, he went on to open Brandon's in Saratoga. Surrounded by expensive fine dining, Ron’s location served the upscale comfort foods and high-in plated desserts for a much more affordable price. This is where he started Innuendo Foods, owned and operated for about 10 years. In the last year or two he took a contract for San Jose's famous Dave's Gourmet as an independent contractor making products for them.
One day, he stumbled upon the Psycho Donuts on his way home from the farmers market and fell in love with their unorthodox characteristics. At first, he was simply hired as a donut decorator, saying “I just wanted to play.” As the days progressed he began putting more and more hours in the store and was eventually promoted to his current position.
“It’s a creative outlet. I get to do things here that no one’s doing,” he says. It is definitely a variation from the sauces he was making from scratch for Dave’s Gourmet just a couple of years back.
The creations have their own personalities and the store is unlike any other donut franchise. With walls covered by random and interesting Day of the Dead decor, almost every square inch of the area is ornamented. Pieces by local artists brighten the place and are not only used to liven up the space, but are for sale too.
Ron gives back to the community by providing the artist’s name under each painting and how much they want for it. He also donates leftovers to charity. Since the bakers pride themselves on keeping their selection fresh until the day’s very last customer, there’s about one hundred donuts remaining every night that Ron donates to the EHC Lifebuilders charity in Milpitas.
“Things just come to me. I have a list I’ll never finish,” he says.
Ron’s ideas are broad and unlimited, he wants to make ‘Thai Green Curry’ and ‘White Truffle Lobster Macaroni and Cheese’ donuts in the future. His most prideful work to date is The Foie Bomb, a donut he created for give away on June 7th, National Donut Day. Intending to only make about 100, Ron ended up providing closer to 400 donuts for the line of people coming to receive this free and rare treat.
Foie gras mousse is extracted from the liver of a duck that has been specially fattened for human enjoyment. Since it is now illegal to be sold in California, Ron had it shipped from Canada in order to stuff the half ounce doughnut bomb. After topping it with a fried and salted sage leaf, each bite-sized delicacy was penetrated by a tiny glass pipette filled by balsamic gastrique, fig and honey. It was a huge hit that got the attention of not only the media but multiple others, both happy and upset with the audacious use of Foie gras.
The Campbell location is also the only place in the world where customers can get a Danolli, another Ron creation and favorite. The cannoli-donut hybrid is a spinoff of the much desired dessert with the same inpastata filling rolled into crushed cannoli shells, dipped in chocolate chips on each end and drizzled with a chocolate finish.
The donuts here are always in rotation. For those with health concerns, a line of vegan donuts is available and refreshed twice a day. Ron is creating a future donut named “Expressoyoself” that will be another vegan addition for coffee lovers. The numerous choices on the menu of donuts gone right illustrates Campbell’s Psycho Donuts creativity and bakers that love what they do. Ron and his employees are always brainstorming for the next best tasting product for their Psycho patients.
Some of his greatest hits include the Squeal Meal, a buttermilk bar topped with maple icing, bacon bits and chocolate drizzle and the Rocky Road, a chocolate cake donut with chocolate icing, peanuts and marshmallows.
Ron Levi’s position as the Dr. of Donut Derangement ties everything the store has to offer together perfectly. He is a standing example of creativity, passion for the art of baking and compassion for his customers.