Donut Cafe | Santa Rosa

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Frank makes the donuts while you sleep.

Just past midnight, 82-year-old Frank Whigham and his wife, Champa, head to their Bennett Valley bakery, The Donut Cafe, to cook up hundreds of donuts, fritters, Danish and (best of all) cinnamon twists for the next morning.

It’s grueling work — the shop opens at 5am and the couple usually work until around 4pm, getting in a few hours sleep before starting the whole process again the next day. The payoff: Donuts so good even local cardiologists are known to come in for a few.

“We have a lot of doctors,” said Whigham, grinning. Along with early morning laborers, construction workers, then school children, the mid-morning business folks and coffee-sipping crowd and the later lunchtime nibblers, there’s a steady stream of folks walking out with pink boxes or just sitting around the tables having coffee and donuts.

Suffice to say Whigham’s built up a loyal following in the four years since opening in Santa Rosa. But fans know to come early, because his popular twists tend to run out early.

“We do everything the old fashioned way,” said Whigham, who’s a stickler for details like using real pastry cream, jellies and from-scratch ingredients. Including real cinnamon for his crispy twists.

Whigham’s been in the biz since he was 9, learning the trade in his uncle’s Georgia bakery. “I also learned to drive in Georgia,” he says with just a hint of his southern twang, “My uncles were moonshiners.” In San Francisco, he joined the baker’s union (illegally) at 15, was busted and sent back to school, and eventually ended up with 5 bakeries in Daly City. If you get him going, he’ll gladly tell you about a lifetime of adventures — from playing with Confederate dollars as a kid to teaching donut making in Saudi Arabia.

And in a place and time where sugary, glutenous, calorie-laden treats have almost become verboten, it’s refreshing to find a little corner of the world where old-fashioned morning pastries are still made — and accepted — with love. “I never get tired of donuts. I still eat five or six a day,” said the octogenarian.

Maybe there’s something to enjoying a little sweetness in life — in moderation of course. You can ask the doctors walking out with a bear claw or jelly donut the next time you’re there.

Donut Cafe: 4275 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 539-2416.

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Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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  1. I had these last week. They are great!!

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  2. I had these just last week. They are great!

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    • I agree! I need to get me some.

  3. And he is just adorable. It’s also a great place to have a mini meeting with your laptop … great guy — great place. My son LOVES his donuts.

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  4. It says baked but aren’t all good doughnuts fried? Can you confirm this for me? To Marie, the first lady that commented about diabetes, why be a Debbie Downer?

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    • They are fried donuts. Since the sentence included multiple pastries, I said “bakes”.

  5. Fat unhealthy doctors who believe in treating diseases with pills and not healthy eating. Don’t come crying if you end up with diabetes or any of the other diseases that are becoming an epidemic. No wonder we have a health care crisis.

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    • I don’t think Frank’s donuts are the cause of our national obesity epidemic.

      Eating donuts isn’t a crime. Nor does anyone mistake them for diet food.

      Labeling foods as “healthy” or “low fat” and loading them with sugar, salt, dyes and chemicals is where we need to start pointing fingers. Check the back of a Yoplait sometime. Disturbing.

    • Thank you. It’s really all about moderation and taking some personal responsibility. Eating a donut once a month is fine. Every day…….not so much.

  6. These are the best SR donuts since Tony Patane sold the Donut Hut (they also did a couple types of foccacia) and moved to Lake County back in ’91 or so.

    Article mentions “real cinnamon”, this implies that others are using ‘artificial cinnamon’–this true? and what is artificial cinnamon?

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    • Actually, what I was referring to was not the cassia vs. cinnamon thing (which is fascinating, and if you want to taste all different types, you can at Savory Spice in Santa Rosa for free) but the fact that sometimes in baking cinnamon extract or flavorings are used.

      This has cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top, not a cinnamon flavoring.

    • Love the cinnamons at Savory Spice!! All their spices for that matter.

    • D ear Cara
      Thank you for the compliment. So nice to hear that fronm one of my customer’s. Since I moved to Lake County, I also have not had a a good donut.
      I’m happy to know that my friend, Frank, has a wonderful bakery.
      Guess who taugh him all he knows. (Just kidding. He taugh me!)
      Tell him I’ll be down every morning for a french donut…it’s worth the
      120 miles (round trip).
      Tony Patane

  7. This place is the best!! When u go here make sure u talk to the old man. He is so nice. Let him tell u how he makes these donuts. Its amazing. Ive had many fond memories of this little gem right in front of my apt complex.

    Wanna make everyone at work love u? Snag a couple dozen of these donuts on the way to work. Make sure u say hi to the owner and ask for his suggestions.


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  8. I stopped here for the first time on Sunday, coincidentally. I went after Zumba class– the donut shop is right by the fitness studio. It felt like stopping at a strip club after church. But the donuts were great. I loved the crumb cake donut I had.

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  9. There is no such thing as a “Danish.” In Denmark, they call them pastries, and ask Americans: Why do you call them Danishes? Most of the pastries are actually German in origin. Just an FYI :)

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    • Frank calls them Danish. As do most people in America.

  10. LOL,
    I was sure I have told you about this place before Heather (talking about that lovely dive bar of by gone days The Trophy Room). I am the go to man for donuts in many a city by the by. This is the hood formerly known as mine and in my humble opinion Montgomery Drive in the basic line that marks Bennett Valley’s Northern boarder and Rincon Valley’s Southern. I am also always happy with treats from The Jelly Donut on Sebastopol Rd/Dutton Ave (24 hour donuts!!), I am going to try some with a bacon shake soon!

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  11. I stopped here once on a whim and am now a fan. Frank is the sweetest!

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  12. I believe Montgomery dr. Is in Montgomery village, not Bennett Bally.

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    • Hmm….seeing as how I consider Mary’s Pizza and Lepe’s to both be BV establishments and this little gem is nestled between the two, I’m claiming Bennett Valley all the way. But honestly, as long as me and google maps can find it – call the location whatever you want! Thanks for the great story Heather!

    • Sorry all, but Bennett Valley is nowhere near Lepe’s, Mary’s Pizza, or Slater Middle School. As a 4th generation native who’s great grandparents had a ranch in Bennett Valley in the late 1800’s I would say that perhaps everything south of Hoen Ave., from Summerfield, to Farmer’s Lane might be considered B.V., but that’s even pushing it a bit. Bennett Valley and Rincon Valley do not border each other.

    • Third generation native Santa Rosan here… DITTO!! Whoever wrote this article needs a geography lesson. The correct description of the location of this bakery would be Lakeside.

    • Not in Montgomery Village.

    • PS. I’m not totally sure where Bennett Valley ends, but i sort of consider everything along Summerfield Road to be part of Bennett Valley. Technically it may be Rincon Valley, but I feel like that starts putting people on the other side of Hwy. 12, mentally. Whatev.

    • Yay Donuts.

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