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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2008

Doughnuts provide a taste of home

May 17, 2008

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— Inside the heavily fortified Green Zone - where a towering wall rings about 1,300 acres of land to protect U.S. diplomats, contractors, Iraqi officials and soldiers - Ingo Sahlmann and Gaylene Scott sat down for a beer in the garden of their Green Zone home and office.

After the pair consumed a couple of cans, Sahlmann asked, "Wouldn't a doughnut be nice right now?"

An idea was born that Thursday night to the hum of the generator and in the midst of weeks of heavy rocket attacks launched by militias outside the walls: coffee and doughnuts.

For the next two weeks, the pair, in Iraq doing construction management, scoured the Internet, called a pastry chef in the United States and flooded friends and family with phone calls in search of the perfect doughnut recipe. With a hot glazed doughnut, they knew they could bring a piece of home here.

"We started the trials and tribulations of finding a good recipe," said Scott of Harlan, Ky.

Their Iraqi staff bought fryers and mixers from stores in downtown Baghdad, off limits to the two of them and their Filipino chef, Joseph. Joseph went to work.

The first batch was rock hard and inedible. The second wasn't much better. But after two weeks of kneading dough and experimenting with glazes, they perfected a soft, glazed, deep-fried doughnut.

They put up little signs against gray walls with arrows pointing toward DoJo's Baghdad Cafe, named for Joseph and doughnuts. The house is nondescript, save a small store-front sign attached to the house and a laminated piece of paper with the limited menu - 13 doughnuts for $15, chocolate glazed, white laced and strawberry. Of course, there's premium coffee to go along with that.

Because of security concerns, Sahlmann and Scott squashed the idea of putting a Webcam behind the counter so that people could watch their loved ones on the Internet.

"All these cars in our parking lot," said Sahlmann, a native of Germany. "They're potential targets. We need to keep a low profile."

Iraqis who work in the Green Zone with U.S. officials are often targeted outside the walls as collaborators. A live Webcast could put their lives in danger.

Finally, the cafe's doors opened, and people started to come. Among them were U.S. diplomats looking for an on-the-go breakfast reminiscent of Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts. Often, people would drop by before the doors opened at 9 a.m. and well after they closed at 5 p.m. But they'd still get served.

"We're flexible," Scott said. "You need a place to get away from it all."

The duo knew they had a winning side business when four Humvees pulled up. The soldiers parked their armored vehicles in the dirt-filled parking lot. Leaning against their vehicles they sipped hot coffee and bit into doughnuts.

"You cracked the code," one soldier said.

"That was the seal of approval," Sahlmann said.

On one recent afternoon, people sat on the plastic tables and chairs in the garden of patchy green grass.

"We really need to do something about this sound," Scott told Sahlmann as the generator's hum drowned out their conversation.

A group of customers walked in the shop, and Sahlmann dashed off.

Even more plans are in the works for the cafe. Friends from the States are sending sprinkles and jellies to expand the menu.

And Scott and Sahlmann are branching out. Now they're applying for a license to sell the doughnuts on military bases.

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