Kevin Riordan: Confection perfection at a New Jersey doughnut shop

When he makes the doughnuts, Konstantinos Yiantsos - customers call him Gus - doesn't dare take a break.

"The dough does not wait," says Gus, who owns Jack's, the landmark Lindenwold shop he named for his dad.

"The dough keeps rising and rising, until it collapses, like cheesecake. Have you ever seen cheesecake when it collapses?"

Can't say I have. Can't say I've ever seen someone make doughnuts, either - certainly not in the way, and in the quantity, Gus does.

He turns out nearly 1,000 a week, all by hand, at the White Horse Pike "doughnut shop and cafe" he opened in 1985.

"It keeps me skinny," says Gus, who at 55 is indeed trim, despite daily enjoying one of his creations ("I like plain") with a cup of coffee.

A father of three, he was born in Macedonia, emigrated to Philadelphia at 15, and lives in Voorhees with his wife, Vera. He was trained as an engineer, but "I like being my own boss," says Gus, who likens doughnut-making to being "an engineer, a chemist, and a mixologist."

I'd add meteorologist, promoter, and artisan. Maybe a bit of showman, too.

Sifters, rollers, proofers, fryers, and pump-fillers are the props; the two rooms of his compact, if not cramped, kitchen a stage. The air there is moist and sweet; the man in charge never stops moving through it.

"My glaze and all my crèmes I make myself," Gus says. "The only thing I don't make is the fruit filling. I can't go pick fruit."

Even if he wanted to: A doughnut represents about three hours of labor, which, fortunately, can be applied to dozens at a time.

A 50-pound bag of flour yields six pillow-size loaves of dough, and each loaf produces three or four 24-doughnut trays.

I watch as Gus mixes, rolls, and divides the dough; arranges the individual rings and mounds on wire mesh trays; and slides the trays into his two proofers, or "proof boxes."

Resembling old-fashioned rack stereo systems, complete with glass doors, the proofers bathe the trays of raw doughnuts in moist heat. But not too much, or for too long.

"You want the texture of the surface to be a little rough," Gus says. "If it's too moist, it absorbs too much oil."

From the fryer, he says, lowering a succession of properly proofed trays into a boxy little vat of sizzling vegetable oil.

"See these babies?" Gus says as the latest bobbing fleet of rings goes golden in its bath of burnished liquid.

He flips each doughnut over with wooden tongs that look like oversize chopsticks.

The oil is 375 degrees, he says. "It only takes 30 to 45 seconds."

Indeed, making doughnuts is all about timing and what Gus calls "procedure." The latter largely focuses on grease.

"If a doughnut has too much, I don't care how much crème you put on it. It's no good," he says. "My doughnuts have less grease."

Even his doughnuts are generally not considered health food, and as tastes have changed, so has the business. "We couldn't make enough doughnuts in the '70s," says Gus, recalling the days when he wholesaled doughnuts in Philly with his dad.

But in today's health-conscious market, "people will go out of their way" for a good doughnut, he says.

That's why he's not concerned about competition from chains, including the one the country supposedly runs on.

If another shop "run by someone like me opened down the street, then I'd be worried," Gus says. "People have said to me, 'Why don't you franchise?' But this is enough."

Even the debut of what's being promoted as South Jersey's latest Krispy Kreme - set to open in August in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken in Collingswood - doesn't faze him.

"So what?" Gus says. "All they have is the name. I have the quality."


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