Andy Adenegan, known to Roman Road locals as ‘The Donut Man’, has been at his spot outside Bow library at Roman Road Market since 1996. He’s had over 20 years to perfect his large vegan churros, the original Brazilian donuts filled with the flavour of your choice.
Now we uncover his tale; from Nigerian boarding school, to the ranks of Mcdonalds and KFC, to divine intervention, serendipity and the dessert shop franchised future in store for the yellow and green Candi Donut Co we’ve all grown to love.
Even as we interview him, market goers line up for churros and he greets them by name. He offers them their ‘usual’ and they exchange updates like old friends. Children with a knowing anticipatory grin on their faces step up on the trailer wheel to get a glimpse of their pastry treat being prepared by the churro man.
How the Donut Man came to be
Adenegan’s story of how the Candi Donut Co came to be is a winding one, not without a hint of cosmic intervention. Looking at him in his donut stand, joyful and independent, it’s quite difficult to imagine such a carefree spirit behind an office desk or in a bank. However, fresh from Business School in Wales, that’s what he was originally looking to do.
Adenegan tells us banking wasn’t his calling and now he can’t imagine living that life. ‘Working on the market is fun. I think the things I love the most are the people, atmosphere, and the freedom. I see people from all over the world here and I like to be out in the sunshine.’
Wanting to combine his business flare with his growing passion for food, Adenegan’s journey to find his way was a largely uphill battle. To pay the bills and build on his business savvy mindset, he worked at McDonalds and KFC in the late 1980s while studying to become a chef. ‘There was a point where I was working for £2 an hour as a MDdonalds manager.’ Certainly unthinkable today. He adds, ‘There was no support. I did Mcdonalds in the day and KFC in the evening. It was tough.’
After leaving McDonalds, Adenegan joined a catering company at Gatwick Airport, as a kitchen manager. Three months into his new job, there was a bad report from a food critic, and as a consequence they rashly sacked the managerial team. ‘I remember they sacked everyone, the whole team, but I didn’t cry about it. My dad, who has passed now, said to me, “If you’re going for a J.O.B – Just-Over-Broke – then you’re going to be disappointed. You won’t get wealthy that way, you need to have a business.” I remember, I was praying for what I should do.’
Adenegan believes Candi Donut Co had a very spiritual underpinning. As a Christian, he believes that through prayer he was led to a precious memory from the past. In his youth, he went to boarding school in Nigeria, a tough school with no comforts – no treats, television, or fun activities – he remembered only one weekly reprieve.
‘Every Saturday a woman came and she made these hot African doughnuts, little dumpling things.’ He pauses, the nostalgia making him smile. ‘And the queue used to be massive’. After prayer he said, ‘I got a spiritual impression in my heart. And I remember being told, “think of that woman from Nigeria – go and do that.” I can’t explain it really. It just clicked for me.’
The Donut Man’s search began. African doughnuts were hard to control and produce effectively. His years at Mcdonalds and KFC taught him that you have to be on top of your product, and have a clear process. ‘It was serendipity. One day, I was driving along, and saw some guy selling donuts, ones that I’d never seen before; they were completely new.’
The donuts were churros, not nearly as well-known as they are now, and completely new to many in the 1990s. The seller had done it for a while, and wanted to move back to Brazil. Adenegan tells us, ‘The dough could be made beforehand, which I liked. It meant that I would be free on market days to just serve and talk to customers, so he sold it to me. It was what I had prayed for, and because of my MBA I could see it would do well.’ It was originally called ‘Brazilian Donuts’ which he quickly copyrighted, but he felt the name didn’t fit him and he wasn’t Brazilian, and so he invented ‘Candi Donut Co’ for the similarity to his own name.
Adenegan struggled to get support originally, ‘to get my first trailer, my lovely wife gave me £5,000 when banks wouldn’t give me a penny.’ Eventually, he was able to get a soft loan from Midlands Bank, now a part of HSBC, in a scheme helping minorities in small businesses, with Newham Council. This allowed him to really get his business off the ground.
The churros of the future
Adenegan makes all his own pastry, with a vegan recipe too secret to disclose, and creates several of his sauces too. The sauces are chocolate, caramel, strawberry, coconut, apple and banana crème. He plans to add lemon crème and white chocolate very soon, to appease constant requests.
The flavour list isn’t the only part of Candi Donut Co. expanding however. Currently operating with three teams, seven staff members in total for events, and three vans, Adenegan expects there will be bigger changes soon. ‘I want my own dessert shop, and it’s the next step for Candi Donut Co.’
According to his business ‘SWOT’ analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, he has a few things to consider before a shop is in the picture. ‘My strength is the product, people like it, and my business experience. The weaknesses are financing, and funding, having to constantly reinvest my profits into new vans. My opportunities: East London is a great place to trade in. And the threats? Brexit is a threat, some of the sauces, like the caramel, are imported. Rising rent and replacing vans is also a threat to my business.’ He tells us, he’d want to open his shop near Roman Road if he can because it’s what people know him for.
Candi Donut Co. also cater at events like festivals, weddings and concerts. The Candi Donut Co has catered for Tower Hamlets events in the past, including the Victoria Park Fireworks, and for festivals like the Alexander Palace Street Food Festival in June 2018.
Adenegan is easily one of the oldest traders on Roman Road Market. Life as the oldest trader means that the Donut Man frequently has customers that come to his stall and tell him they came specifically for his churros. ‘People tell me, not to boast, that they bring their kids to the market for me, for my donuts, I have a very specific and unique taste that people know and recognize.’
The churros are discounted for the little ones, ‘just a pound each’, he tells a grateful new customer and her children. Little do the locals know, they’re all getting the Roman Road Market discounted price of £1.50. The other market he frequents through the week, Brick Lane, get the Brazilian churros for the increased price of £2.50 and above. At £1.50, his doughnuts are one of the cheaper snacks on Roman Road.
One of Roman Road Market’s friendliest and oldest traders, Adenegan started from the bottom and worked his way up. His plans to franchise sit on years of market experience and we can’t imagine the market without him.
If you liked this article about Roman Road Market legend Andy Adenegan, you might like to read about fellow market stall owner St. Sugar of London
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