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MAY 201427

RESTAURANTS
High-End Doughnuts Hit Home For Chairman
By Dan Koller
People Newspapers
Alex Sharma believes in the
quality of his doughnuts, so
much so that he thinks youll
pay handsomely for them.
Sharma is the chairman and
majority shareholder of Top Pot
Doughnuts, a chain that will
soon open its rst Dallas out-
post at the corner of Hillcrest
and Northwest Highway. He
said the store will charge about
$20 per dozen; the atmosphere
will be thrown in for free.
Its something thats not
been done in doughnuts, which
is an artisanal, high-end envi-
ronment, Sharma said. Its for
people who want something
special and something memo-
rable.
If that sounds a lot like Star-
bucks approach to cofee, well,
thats no coincidence. Top Pot
is based in Seattle, Starbucks
hometown. In fact, the chain
started out as a coffee shop,
Sharma said, but branched out
to doughnuts to diferentiate it-
self from all of its competition
in the caffeine-crazed Pacific
Northwest.
Top Pot which charges
$17.99 per dozen at its Seat-
tle stores began supplying
doughnuts to Starbucks in 2005.
Within ve years, Sharma said,
his companys doughnuts were
in the cofee colossus shops in
19 countries.
That started becoming the
real operational focus of our
business, he said. But there was
a downside to the relationship,
which ended a few years ago.
It probably put some brakes
on what we can do as a retail
entity, Sharma said. We had
to be sensitive to emphasizing
our coffee when our primary
revenue stream is a giant cofee
company.
Top Pot aims to be a giant
cofee (and doughnut) compa-
ny itself. Hence, the opening of
the Dallas store, the chains rst
outside Washington state. The
choice of that location was stra-
tegic; the store on Hillcrest is
less than a mile from Sharmas
home in University Park. Yes, a
man who lives in the Park Cit-
ies chairs a company based in
Seattle.
Sharma describes himself as
a failed or reformed lawyer,
varying the adjective depending
on whether or not hes talking to
another attorney. He eventually
gravitated toward real-estate
development, but he didnt rel-
ish doing business in his sprawl-
ing hometown. He sought out a
smaller, less volatile market,
which led him to Seattle.
If something went wrong,
he said of Seattle, it would go
wrong only on a certain band-
with.
One of the projects he and
his business partner, Bill Ter-
har, developed was an office
building in Seattles South Lake
Union neighborhood. The duo
rst came into contact with Top
Pot because Sharma and Terhar
wanted to install a cofee shop
in their building.
In Seattle, you must have
cofee, Sharma said. Its sort
of a civic requirement.
Sharma said Top Pot stores
have a lot of character, some-
thing his office building in
South Lake Union lacked. So
they decided it wasnt a good
t. But he and Terhar became
friends with Top Pots founders,
Mark and Michael Klebeck.
Every time my brother and I
were building out the next new
store, Mark Klebeck said, all
of a sudden Alex would show
up when he was in town, and
wed catch up, and he really
liked what we were doing. He
loved the brand and everything
that we were starting to gener-
ate with it. And just in conver-
sations he got involved with us.
Sharma said Top Pot was
building its third cafe when he
joined the company in 2005. Its
16th and 17th Seattle-area loca-
tions are scheduled to open this
summer.
In Seattle, were an institu-
tion, Sharma said. People are
slavishly devoted to us.
He hopes to build the same
type of loyalty in Dallas. As
chairman of the Lamplighter
Schools board of trustees, hes
laid the groundwork via plenty
of donated doughnuts.
Through Lamplighter, Ive
given away something like
15,000 doughnuts, Sharma said
with a laugh. Theres a whole
cadre of middle-aged men and
women who have been eating
our doughnuts for free. And I
thought, We could monetize
this.
They sure could if those
people enjoyed their freebies
enough to pay $20 per dozen.
Email dan.koller@
peoplenewspapers.com
CHRI S MCGATHEY
Alex Sharma is converting what was Elevation Burger into the rst Dallas outpost for his Seattle-based doughnut chain.
Whats in a name?
Alex Sharma said Top Pot will charge about $20 for a
dozen doughnuts at its Dallas store. Here are the highest
per-dozen prices posted at nearby competitors:
0
$5
$10
$15
$20
TOP POT S PRI CE VS. COMPETI TORS
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Top Pot founders Mark
and Michael Klebeck
salvaged a sign from
a shuttered Chinese
restaurant called Top Spot.
It sat in their mothers
yard for years, long enough
to gather moss and a few
critters nests. When they
were nally transporting it
to get the neon refurbished,
the S fell of the sign on
a freeway. The S was for
serendipity, Mark Klebeck
said. I was very upset at
the time, but Im happy it
happened.
$20
$12
$9.50 $9.29
$7.99
$5
(for 14)