Better Days, a new Dovercourt Village bakery, is bringing back classic Canadian doughnuts

Better Days, a new Dovercourt Village bakery, is bringing back classic Canadian doughnuts

And pairing everything with nothing but good old fashioned drip coffee

A person holds a box open to reveal a dozen doughnuts inside

For the past two years, Dave Fish has been staring at photographs of coffee shops and restaurants from the 1960s and trying to pack as much mid-century nostalgia and atomic-grade kitsch as possible into a 400-square-foot storefront on Dovercourt. The result: Better Days Coffee and Donuts, Fish’s ode to the doughnut shops of his youth in St. Thomas, Ontario, when chains like Tim Hortons, Mister Donut and Robin’s Donuts were still bakeries churning out hot and fresh doughnuts every morning. “You could go to Tim Hortons and get a slice of Black Forest cake!” says Fish. “And people would come in and smoke a pack of cigarettes at their seats–the good old days.”

Anyone nostalgic for the doughnut diners of the past will immediately recognize the menu at Better Days. My eyes went immediately to the crown-like Chocolate Coconut, with shreds of toasted coconut identical to the ones that coated the car seats of my childhood.

The exterior of Better Days Coffee and Doughnuts in Toronto

Dave Fish, owner of Better Days Coffee and Donuts, holds five boxes of donuts

Related: The Donuterie, artisanal doughnuts from a Leslieville lunch counter

“Someone came in earlier today and said, ‘No one in Toronto does cake doughnuts!’ It was important for me to have those on the menu,” says Fish. What won’t be on the menu? What Fish refers to as “stunt doughnuts,” unremarkable rings of dough covered with chunks of chocolate bars, candy or bacon. Better Days’ doughnuts don’t rely on excessive toppings or avant-garde fillings: the Sprinkle, Double Chocolate and Sour Cream cake doughnuts are satisfying in their simplicity.

But Fish makes more than just cake doughnuts. There are also classic chocolate and maple dips; a colossal, perfectly craggy apple fritter; and a light, delicate French cruller, the ideal breakfast doughnut. Filled yeasted doughnuts include a Boston Cream stuffed with fresh custard, one crammed with raspberry jam and covered with powdered sugar, and another packed with tart lemon curd.

A display case of doughnuts at Better Days Coffee and Doughnuts in Dovercourt Village

A person holds a sprinkle doughnut at Better Days Coffee and Donuts

“Growing up, there was this place near my house that had a lemon-filled doughnut. I loved it because instead of powdered sugar, they put granulated sugar on top. I always thought that was the best,” Fish says about the inspiration behind Better Days’ version, with its satisfyingly crunchy coating.

The current crowd favourite is the Cherry Stick, another powerful throwback. Tim Hortons tried to resurrect its own Cherry Stick last year, decades after it disappeared from menus in the early aughts, when the brand started shipping all its doughnuts in frozen from a Brantford-based factory.

A cherry stick doughnut at Better Days in Toronto

A tray of chocolate, maple and sprinkle doughnuts

Maybe this is why biting into a Better Days Cherry Stick—golden brown on the outside, vivid maraschino pink on the inside–feels like reclaiming a lost memory. A bite of the sweet pastry is best followed with a sip of hot, slightly acidic drip coffee.

Which is another feature of the Better Days experience: you won’t find an espresso machine here. Fish is convinced that drip coffee is the superior pairing for classic doughnuts. And he’s right: the slight tartness of the medium and dark roasts from Detour Coffee cuts right through the sugary pastries.

Coffee mugs from Better Days Coffee and Doughnuts

Dave Fish, owner of Better Days Coffee and Donuts, takes a sip of coffee from a paper cup

As for the retro look and feel of the place, years ago, Fish came across a book about the architecture of coffee shops and restaurants in Southern California in the ’60s. It captivated him. When it came time to build Better Days, he passed that brief on to local designer Alisha Sturino, who filled the space with mood-boosting, retro-inspired details like stained glass windows by artist Kristie-Lee and a ceiling mural by painter Maxine McCrann. Andrew Kidder was responsible for the logo, hand-painted signs and fun neon.

“The store has an optimistic feel to it,” says Fish. “There’s not a whole lot of optimism in the world right now, so if someone can come in here and get a nice cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts, maybe they’ll have a better day.”

Better Days Coffee and Donuts, 963 Dovercourt Rd., betterdaysdonuts.ca, @betterdaysdonuts

A rack filled with trays of doughnuts at Better Days in Toronto

A sign outside Better Days Coffee and Donuts in Toronto's Dovercourt Village