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How the Founders of Brammibal’s Donuts Built a Thriving Purpose-Driven Brand

This wildly successful company is a case study on effectively executed, purpose-driven branding. Yes, the product might be vegan, but indulgence and fun are front and center.

We talked to the founders Jess & Bram about their heritage story, interior dreams and how to build a love brand that permeates into mainstream culture. 

Berlin, April 14, 2023

Words & Portraits — Eric Mirbach
Other Imagery — Brammibal's Donuts
Editorial Desk — Lottie Savage

It’s 2014. Jessica Jeworutzki and Bram van Montfort had just made donuts for a friend’s birthday party when inspiration strikes.

They realize that not only did their creations taste good — there’s also nowhere in Europe where you could buy vegan donuts.

Today, Berlin’s Brammibal’s Donuts is an absolute fan favorite, and not “just” for vegans. With their dedication to fresh, high-quality ingredients, their first quirky donut shop in Kreuzberg has grown into a chain of outlets, with multiple locations all over Berlin and three in the city of Hamburg.

Brammibal’s is a roaring success story, and one that is not only about tasty, deep-fried pastries, but about a great branding case, too.

We talked to the founders to learn more about the origins of the Brammibal’s brand and pick their brains on how to build a love brand that not only speaks to their core audience but has long transcended into mainstream culture.

Brammibals Vegan Donuts, Berlin – Eric Mirbach for Antagonist

What Brammibal’s is famous for: Baked treats and specialty coffee. Or in this instance, matcha.

Okay, important first question: Do you still like to eat donuts?

Jessica: Yeah, basically every day. Still going strong.

Happy to hear that. How do your jobs before Brammibal’s compare to your jobs now?

Jessica: It’s completely different. I had originally worked in nursing, and that’s very different indeed. It’s a whole different pace, and you do things at 10 times the speed because it’s about someone else’s survival.

Actually, working in nursing was way more stressful than being a CEO and employing almost 150 people. To me, that is way less stressful than working in a hospital.

That’s an interesting perspective.

Jessica: Sure, there are days when shit happens. Say you have a big catering order for a super important client and then things go wrong, and they are super angry, but at the end of the day no one died, so it’s not a disaster. So I think it gives you perspective.

“Working as a CEO is way less stressful than when I worked in a hospital. No one dies.”

“Working as a CEO is way less stressful than when I worked in a hospital. No one dies.”

And for you, Bram? Your job now versus before Brammibal’s?

Bram: It’s obviously super different for me, too. But also, when I compare now to when we first started. Those years were kind of all the same, but after we opened our second location, things really changed. We are now managing the people who are managing the people who are making the donuts.

But I think it’s really helpful that we know the job, so we can really relate to what goes on.

So you went through all the stages, and now you’ve got an insight into all the jobs.

Bram: Yeah, but at the same time, when we started out, we made donuts in a small kitchen and now it’s a thousand square meter bakery. We couldn’t really work there anymore because this is now a job that requires trained pastry chefs. But yes, I think it’s important that we did that in the beginning, as well.

Donuts are a surprisingly labor-intense pastry to make, and scaling production is not an easy feat. With two facilities now — one in Berlin and one in Hamburg — Brammibal’s has successfully mastered that task.

Can you give me a bit of a status quo about the size of your company?

Bram: We have 9 locations now.

Are you loosing count?

Bram: It’s crazy.

Jessica: We’ve just opened a third location in Hamburg.

We also want to expand more in Berlin. We’ve grown our bakery last year and took on another 300 square meters. Which in turn means we need to use that space to make more donuts and I think there’s still demand in Berlin actually. Which blows my mind, but yeah.

”Everyone we knew said 'why are you doing this? Are you stupid?'“

”Everyone we knew said 'why are you doing this? Are you stupid?'“

Alright, so on a scale of 1 to 10, how surprised are you about your success?

Jessica: 10. Yeah, we did not see this coming when we started.

Bram: Basically everyone we knew said ”Why are you doing this? Are you stupid?”

What do they say now?

Jessica: Basically, all my friends who were like “oh, don’t do this, just stick with your job, it’s way safer”, they now are like “what a great idea” because now they know.

Bram: It always looks so self-explanatory in hindsight, right.

Ok, but do you have milestones you remember, or heard someone’s outside perspective where you were like “oh, that happened?”

Jessica: In Spring last year, I took two employees with me to the US to sample donuts and maybe get inspired by other businesses. Connect with them and see how they’re dealing with things, how they scale production. But every place we visited, every owner we spoke to, they all were like “oh my god, we love Brammibal’s, you’re so inspiring, you’re my role model.”

We went there to learn from them and so I didn’t expect that.

Bram: For me it’s more the actual locations, being out there in the world, that’s what I think is the coolest. I also think back of certain moments we have. This summer we had a staff party and there were like 100 people in the room. That’s such a crazy moment.

Today’s production facilities are slightly different than the home kitchen Bram & Jess made their first donuts in back in 2014.

What were the first years like?

Bram: Really hard. Just the amount of work. We were making donuts in the mornings, then selling donuts the whole day, then the next day again.

Jessica: And then I think on Mondays we were closed at the beginning, just so we could do accounting and clean the place and get groceries.

Bram: And then customers would be at the door anyways. We literally had people crying at the door when we were closed, so we were like “fuck, we should open Mondays.”

Isn’t that the definition of a love brand? When people are literally crying because you’re closed… how do you explain that emotion? How has your brand gotten so emotionally charged for people?

Jessica: There was this lady who came all the way from Ireland just to eat donuts and I think we had an equipment malfunction that day, and we were closed. We were trying to get the frier fixed with the technician and she was begging at the door, and she was balling her eyes out, like… “I came all the way from Ireland and now you’re closed.”

Bram: But it’s a good question. I don’t think that is something we did on purpose, building this kind of emotional connection. I think we’re one of the few bigger vegan brands that feel like a “normal brand” you know. We appeal to a lot of people — not just vegans. Really, I think our audience is probably only 40% vegan.

Yeah, that’s what I find so interesting. I understand the emotional charge in the early days, for vegans who didn’t have a donut in a decade.

But you are opening location after location and cater to a much broader demographic. You’re one of the top spots on so many Berlin-visitors’ bucket lists.

Bram: I think it’s just about being genuine. Jess was always doing the social media until two years ago and that just seeps into everything. We’re not faking anything.

It does indeed feel like it all developed very naturally out of who you are, but there must have been a moment in time where you decided that you now have to build a brand platform to be able to scale the right way. When was that moment and how did you approach it?

Jessica: I don’t think that was so much of a conscious decision. It was more like “ok, we’re growing”, and a lot of design stuff you do yourself in the beginning started to become a bit embarrassing you know — like “oh my god, we’re opening at Potsdamer Platz and we have this big location, a former Starbucks — we need to step it up a bit!”

Bram: The original logo has literally been drawn in five seconds on a piece of cardboard.

That’s shocking to me.

Jessica: It was more like… if we want to look a bit more professional, maybe we should redo everything, and then Corona hit and the website became super important, just for pick up, pre-orders, delivery, that kind of stuff. And of course you have a friend who works for an agency and they had some time on their hands and some interns, so they redid our website. I don’t think there was ever that moment where we made the conscious decision that we need to rebrand, it was just out of necessity.

As someone who runs a creative agency, that’s important to hear — as it checks out with our experiences.

Out there in the real world, things are seldomly done perfectly.

That’s obviously not the process that creative professionals would opt for when given the option, but that’s what I’m saying: When you look at the colors, the interior, the pink floors in some of your locations, all of it feels very on brand. It feels quite planned out.

Jessica: Nice!

Bram: That’s a great compliment. I think it just comes down to our taste, that’s what we like.

Jessica: If you look at branding, there’s just so much bad stuff out there. Either you have good taste, or you don’t. You can’t fake that.

Interior plays a big role in your perception. How did the branding decisions you made earlier inform the interior? What was that process like?

Bram: For our interior design, we worked with an architectural firm who did the renovation of our location at Potsdamer Platz. We really liked it and decided to continue working with them and refurbish the other locations step by step.

Jessica: You’ve got the pink in the tiles obviously, and in all the cups and the takeaway boxes.

I think for me, what was the most important thing was to make it fun.

Because a lot of specialty coffee places for example are super-serious, polished. If you don’t have a coffee background, or you’re not into specialty coffee, it can be a bit daunting to walk into a place like that, especially when it looks so polished. You can almost feel the staff judging you. But donuts are different. The place needs to look good yes, but also fun.

Bram: It shouldn’t look like a prison.

That’s a good bottom-line.

Bram: We use more color and comparably “soft” materials, like wood instead of metal. It needs to be welcoming and accessible. And I also think the donuts are the main act, that’s what people see and react to the most.

It’s interesting choices, though, because there are a lot of especially vegan establishments that don’t take that route. Do you self-identify as “the vegan donut chain” or does that fact the product is vegan not matter?

Jessica: It’s important to us of course because we’re vegans.

But does it play a role for your business?

Bram: I think it plays a role, though maybe not as big a role as it did in the past. I think also veganism has changed, where it’s gotten so much more normal now. I don’t know how people perceive us exactly, I would guess it’s like “the good donut chain”.

Jessica: I think consumers want to make good choices and that’s easier with a vegan product than a non-vegan product.

Bram: In the end, we want to be a place where you feel good and we want to bring you joy.

”Rule of thumb: It shouldn't look like a prison.“

”Rule of thumb: It shouldn't look like a prison.“

What makes you “the good donut chain” apart from offering a vegan product?

Jessica: Since the beginning of the year, we are climate neutral certified. It’s expensive to make sustainable choices and that’s really annoying to be honest. As a company, if you want to make responsible business decisions, a country like Germany doesn’t exactly reward you for it.

For example: We use a lot of organic ingredients, but we cannot advertise that we do. For a bakery to become certified, you have to use 100% organic ingredients, and first of all with our size that doesn’t work, and a donut would have to be six Euros.

That to me is really fucking annoying, because I want to make good choices and we use a lot of organic ingredients like the chocolate, for which we pay fair trade prices. We use organic nuts, freeze-dried strawberries, organic vanilla, but we can’t advertise it.

We actually got a letter that we needed to remove the information that we use some organic ingredients from the website, or they would fine us 300,000 Euros for misleading advertisement.

Bram: A very relaxed sum of just a little bit of money for telling the actual truth. Unbelievable.

Do you feel like the larger you become and the more successful you become, the harder it gets to stay connected to the core vegan scene?

Bram: I always think about it like bands: They start small, you went to the first show and now that they’re popular you don’t care about them anymore.

Jessica: I think that’s really stupid.

Bram: I think that was never a part of it for us, we always wanted to make veganism more mainstream, more normal and I think any vegan wants more people to be vegan.

Jessica: We got lots of backlash when we opened at the KaDeWe. The sixth floor of KaDeWe isn’t very vegan friendly. A lot of hardcore vegans were like “what’s up with you, how could you ever do that?” Yeah, well, we want to make this more accessible, so you need a vegan offering where there’s no other vegan stuff. I think that’s amazing.

Deep frying things is taken very seriously at Brammibal’s. And then some last finishing touches and off we go.

Let’s talk about KaDeWe, the famous luxury department store in West Berlin. It’s the second largest department store in Europe, after Harrods in London, and has this air of old money, fur coats, champagne, and caviar. It was surprising to witness you open a booth there.

Were you approached for that, did you apply?

Jessica: They approached us. I’d never been to KaDeWe ever, and then they sent us an e-mail and were like “we have a spot for you on the sixth floor”, so we went to check it out. Honestly, the first impression was not so good. It felt so outdated, kind of stuffy. That was before they did the whole renovation. It was super old-school. I am not the type of person who really goes to KaDeWe as a consumer, I didn’t really get it.

But then we spoke to a lot of people, and they were all like “oh man, for marketing reasons alone you have to do it”. At the end, we came back to our values and what we actually want to achieve with Brammibal’s. It made sense to just go for it.

Bram: So many people told us “I would never have gone to one of your stores, but I found out about you at KaDeWe”. It’s turned so many people onto to us and opened loads of doors. If we want to rent a location for a shop for example, and the landlord isn’t particularly thrilled about a donut shop. But then they hear that we’re at KaDeWe and all of a sudden, they’re interested.

Jessica: “Must be good.”

Well, if your goal is to help as many people as possible making better consumer choices, then it’s about opening doors and changing perception.

How much of your success is in the product? Could a similar success be built around any product?

Jessica: That’s a good question. If I think back to when we started, our donuts were not that good, to be honest. Not as good as they are nowadays. It was just us back then, and we didn’t know what we were doing.

Bram: Deep frying things helps.

Jessica: Yeah, just coat it in sugar, right? I think in the beginning, the positioning and the branding helped for sure, just to create this hype — because I don’t think the donuts were actually that good.

Bram: Maybe the donuts we made weren’t good, but on the other hand, they were still donuts. Donuts are approachable and something nearly everyone likes. If you were to ask our customers what the most important thing for them is, they would say “the donuts”.

So, I definitely think the product is crazy important and I actually think that a lot of companies don’t focus on their product enough but overemphasize marketing. That maybe gets a person to buy a product once, but if you want them to come back, it has to be actually good.

Let’s flip that question on its head: If the product was really good, but all the other stuff wasn’t, if the branding around it wasn’t in line, how would that change it?

Bram: That probably would not have worked either, because you see that so often. It has to come from a place of passion, from really wanting to change things and, in our case, show people how good vegan food can be. But then if you don’t have the design skills or that’s maybe not in your focus, sadly it probably won’t work either. Just a good product is not enough.

”Marketing might help you sell a product once. But if you want them to come back, it has to actually be good.“

”Marketing might help you sell a product once. But if you want them to come back, it has to actually be good.“

Are you happy with what you built? Are you satisfied?

Jessica: I think one of my worst personality traits is that I’m never satisfied. I think that also makes it really hard for some of our employees. I never stop, I just keep on going and I hate that about myself. That’s the answer.

Bram: We always try to improve. I’m really happy that all of this worked out and six years ago I would never have thought that we would be here in this moment.

You never stop to smell the roses?

Jessica: Yeah, we should work on that.

Bram: Celebrate a bit more.

You should. You deserve it. Thank you both for your time!

If you want more Brammibal’s, find their locations, menu and ordering options on brammibalsdonuts.de.
You can find Brammibal’s on Instagram here: @brammibalsdonuts

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Eric Mirbach The driving force behind Antagonist, the brand strategist and editor also co-founded Berlin based branding, content & venture studio Very Good Looking. The mission: Empower purpose-driven founders & companies to create positive change.
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