Ron Razete '85 came to southwestern Pennsylvania 30 years ago to be a pastor, not a businessman. But through a series of what he calls "holy accidents," Razete and his wife, RMU Island Sports Center guest services coordinator Marci Razete, have created a gangbusters business: Peace Love and Little Donuts, a psychedelia-themed hole in the wall in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
"My wife and I got into business to raise money to open a retreat for marriage enrichment," says Razete, whose degree is in marketing. "Working in the ministry helps you develop a realistic set of instincts about human behavior. You can build a better mousetrap, but it's more important to figure out what people like."
The Razetes began selling candied popcorn and other treats at outdoor festivals, and eventually private label snacks to groceries. But Pittsburgh's often rainy weather makes festival sales risky, and the raves about the donuts that were part of their repertoire seemed worth pursuing.
Among the felicitous twists of fate: taking a small mobile donut fryer off the hands of a fellow concessionaire for a few hundred dollars. A fire-suppression hood thrown in for free brought the apparatus up to code for indoor use. Looking for a storefront "so small we'd never go broke," the Razetes found a 209-square-foot space – formerly a newsstand – on Smallman Street near the iconic St. Stanislaus Kostka church, and opened in 2009.
Because of its compact size, the fryer can only handle a few donuts at a time. So while cooking oil temperature can drop dramatically when a lot of food is immersed at once, the oil at Peace Love and Little Donuts stays a steady 375 degrees. Hence the crisp exterior that is the hallmark of Razete's delicacies.
Then there's the innovative flavorings. "Groovy" donuts – 75 cents, please – are rolled in flavored sugars like ginger and Saigon cinnamon. "Far out" varieties are $1 frosted with icings that include coffee and orange. "Funkadelics" will set you back $1.25 and feature icing and toppings in combinations that start with banana split, cherry pie, and s'mores, and get more adventurous. Maple frosting topped with shredded bacon, anyone?
As for the '60s and '70s-era imagery, Razete says, "That's my life. AM radio, Wolfman Jack, the Doobie Brothers, Boston. I've lived a very, very conservative life. I never did drugs or drank, but I enjoyed the music of that time. And the TV: Scooby Doo, The Dating Game, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Our signs and graphics are straight out of Laugh-In."
On a recent busy Sunday, a line snaked down the block while six people pinwheeled expertly around each other behind the counter. At one point or another, all the Razetes have taken their turn at the fryer – Ron and Marci; their daughters Macy, Christianna, and Brianna, who's studying early childhood education at RMU; sons Gabriel and Caelin, who's a manufacturing engineering major; and daughter-in-law Jennifer Edwards Razete, a student who also works with Marci at the Island Sports Center. Razete says he appreciates the way RMU "helps students transition into the real world, helps them figure out how to solve real-world problems. The school has its roots in capitalism, which I like."
While the Razetes' marriage retreat is still in the plans, the donut shop keeps galloping forward. Razete has licensed the business, and two other shops have opened recently, one on Meyran Avenue in Oakland and another in Naples, Fla. Licensee agreements are also in the works with other out-of-state entrepreneurs, some of whom plan to open much bigger shops. Razete wishes them luck but has his reservations. "Our small size is part of the appeal," he says. "You have to step in and accept and enjoy the intimacy."
Do you like your donuts Groovy, Far Out, or Funkadelic? Peace Love and Little Donuts will feed your inner hippie with his crispy donuts and toppings that are just plain wild, man. Take 10% off any order!