In 2013, Hana Dreiling arrived in Kauai for a product design internship, which blossomed into a love story with the Hawaiian islands. She eventually started a catering company in Hawaii using locally sourced ingredients. A few years later, her brother Nile Dreiling, who had been working in ecological engineering in Oregon, joined her to found a donut company focused on sustainability and committed to people, which they launched in 2018 in Hanalei, Kauai.
“We came to realize that the donut is the perfect vessel to connect people to ingredients. Everybody knows and loves a good donut. This was our Holey Grail,” Hana shared in an interview with Forbes. As she elaborated to USA Today about Holey Grail Donuts’ delicious products, “I think we’re positively impacting Hawaii by encouraging growth in the Hawaiian agriculture economy, using locally-grown ingredients and celebrating our partnerships with our farms while supporting the islands.” As the donut industry expands from a $40 billion dollar market to a $50 billion one by 2025, with Technavio estimating about 35 percent of that growth coming from North America, the market was also wide open for an ethical and community-focused entrant.
Holey Grail’s donuts are made of taro, a potato-like root vegetable that is a staple in Hawaiian diets and integral to their creation story. The taro is then mashed into poi and fried in organic, fair trade coconut oil. All ingredients are plant-based, avoiding the dairy, soy and eggs that are usually utilized by popularized donut chains. Some flavors include honey or bee pollen, but they are clearly labeled.
The perfect recipe was obtained through reverse-engineering, replacing each ingredient in a donut with a better version. In particular, substituting coconut oil for hydrogenated vegetable oils was a considerable step for both health and quality. As Nile explained to TechCrunch, “we are taking something that everyone is familiar with, and reinventing it to meet our values, while essentially improving the tastes without the negative health and environmental consequences.”
Holey Grail was born in a red burger trailer that served hand-fried donuts on Sunday mornings.
A community quickly rallied, with lines starting at 6:00 a.m., encouraging the sibling team to add live DJs to entertain their waiting customers. With a focus on employee wellbeing, the company eventually stopped hand-frying donuts, so no one person was at the fryer for an entire shift. Instead, Holey Grail installed a robot to make and fry the dough, allowing employees to spend more time serving even more customers.
Plus, the ingredients are obtained from local farmers and producers in Hawaii and California. Holey Grail has worked hard to ensure they know each input’s origin and develop relationships across a reliable supply chain. Honey comes from Kauai Nectar Co., where female beekeepers emphasize their wards’ happiness as they pollinate wild Hawaiian flowers. The company obtains vanilla from Oahu’s Laie Vanilla Company, which Saili Levi, his wife and three daughters hand-pollinate and harvest. It sources cacao for its Chocolate Crunch variety from Kapaʻa’s Lydgate Farms; Hana told USA Today that “since we started supporting Lydgate regularly, they dedicated a few acres to the cacao we use for our doughnuts, which is super cool.”
Beyond the Chocolate Crunch, the company has created more than 60 flavors. A rotating tasting menu changes seasonally and specialty flavors every week, keeping things interesting. “Hana is more focused on the glaze, the flavors, and the farm partnerships. And I am a little bit more focused on the actual creation of the dough recipe itself and integrating the taro. We kind of just came together as the perfect match,” Nile told Hawaii Magazine. Some fan favorites include the L&L, featuring lemon zest infused sugar, lime curd, citrus caviar, and begonia petals, and the Reincarnated, featuring real maple, smoked coconut, and Hawaiian sea salt. Plus, each of Holey Grail’s unique flavors comes in sustainable packaging: the first 100 percent compostable donut box, the company claims.
In addition to expanding its donut offerings, Holey Grail has expanded geographically. After the original food truck in Hanalei came a food truck in Waikiki, a flagship shop in Honolulu, and a platform food truck in Culver City, Los Angeles, which goes to the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market on Sundays. Further expansion into California will be fueled by the company’s recent $9 million fundraising, with permanent locations in Santa Monica for October and Larchmont Village for 2023. Simultaneously, Holey Grail will build a supply chain of local farmers in California to complement its existing relationships in Hawaii.
Multiple big names provided this essential funding. A seed funding round was led by True Ventures, which has invested in the likes of Sweetgreen and one of whose partners, Tony Conrad, is on Holey Grail’s board of directors. As Conrad explained, “there’s a thrilling enthusiasm building around Holey Grail Donuts that reminds us of some of the other prolific food and beverage brands of our time. . . Nile and Hana are creating something really special.” Additionally, a Series A was led by Collaborative Fund and venture capitalist Lee Fixel.
Other investors include skateboarder Tony Hawk, Michelin Star Chef Christopher Kostow, Third Eye Blind guitarist Stephen Jenkins, and Blue Bottle Coffee founder James Freeman.
One must taste one of Holey Grail’s incredible donuts to understand why the company has garnered such attention.