Cash And Rags
Triple Chocolate Threat, Bee Sting, Canadian Whiskey Bacon, Salted Caramel. These are just some of the donut flavours that inspire Vancouverites to get up at 7 am and head down to Cartems. Since their 2012 opening on West Pender, this local Donuterie has consistently found itself on Vancouver’s Best Donuts lists.
In 2002, Founder Jordan Cash was living in South Korea when he had a vivid dream about opening a donut shop. “I don’t know why I had the dream or where the word ‘Cartems’ came from. But that’s what the shop was called in my dream.” Cash wrote down details of his donut dream the moment he woke up. “It seemed like a good fit for Vancouver, because in markets similar to here – Portland, Seattle, San Francisco – there were already a number of modern donut shops. Vancouver was primed to have one of their own.”
Cash sat on the idea for a few years until he met Co-Owner and Chef Rajesh Narine or ‘Rags’ on the basketball court. “He asked me if I liked donuts, ”says Rags, “and the answer was obviously yes.” “Jordan and I are like brothers. We will fight and disagree, but it is nothing but love at the end of the day. We share the same philosophy of our love for people and making them happy. We both want to build a positive community, and try to do that through donuts.”
Jordan agrees: “Rags is my brother. I met him when I was going through some tough times. While we have our moments, I value his presence, leadership and disposition so much. We wouldn’t be where we are without him, and that’s a fact.”
Both Cash and Rags loved donuts when they were kids. Cash and his Dad would eat ‘Ds’ as a post-dinner treat. “My go-to donut was definitely a cruller, and my Dad’s was a raised chocolate.” Donuts were also a special father-son treat for Rags. “As a young child, getting a fresh donut was a real treat, and my Father would get them early on a Saturday morning.”
The brothers-by-choice had a clear vision for their donuterie. “From day one,” says Cash, “we agreed that sourcing locally, using quality ingredients – organic wherever possible – and making donuts from scratch with no premix or stabilizers were paramount.”
“We wanted to do things different than everyone else,” says Rags. “Our recipes are very unique, and our flavours are even more unique. We have put cheese, ham, sausage, mustard, tomatoes, beef curry and flowers on a donut. Our creativity is a defining factor in who we are.”
Cash and Rags stumbled into their first Pender location by luck. They expanded into a second location – at Main and 6th – in 2015. “We took one look and said yes,” says Cash. “There is so much light and space,” adds Rags. “It was hard to turn that down.”
The Cartems owners have continued to brainstorm and experiment with flavours. “About two weeks before I want to release a new flavour,” says Rags, “I will get in my ingredients and start working at it. Sometimes, I get it on the first try. Sometimes, not so much.” “Experimentation involves trialing the glaze or filling first,” adds Cash, ”then topping or stuffing it and making adjustments along the way.”
For Rags, it’s too hard to choose one favourite flavour: “I love them all. They are all my babies!” For Cash, the choice is a little easier: “Definitely our Apple Fritter and the Sweet Snow.”
“The fritter is fantastic because we make that donut by hand every day,” says Cash, ”and it exemplifies what I believe to be the ideal characteristics. A fritter should be crispy on the edges, moist in the middle, and have noticeable pieces of apple in it. And we do all those things. The Sweet Snow is amazing because, rather than a glaze, we actually use a white chocolate ganache instead, using Callebaut white chocolate, which is really high quality chocolate.”
Cartems customers are also passionate about their cherished flavours. “A riot would ensue if we discontinued the Earl Grey donut,” says Rags. “Complete anarchy. I am sure someone would burn something down.” The Earl Grey donut is infused and glazed with Earl Grey tea and crowned with rose petals.
As the plaudits and patrons pour in, Cash and Rags remain profoundly grateful. “We have grown and now have a large, amazing staff,” says Rags. “We get to interact with them on a daily basis. Watching this dream unfold is a gift.”
“We are blessed and humbled with everything that has happened to us,” agrees Cash. “I feel truly honoured to make something that people really enjoy.”
What advice would the Cartems owners offer to others who are planning their own artisanal businesses?
1. “Make sure it’s something you love.
2. Be prepared for it to consume you in every way and for you not to be able to leave your work at work.
3. If you partner up with someone, make sure you lay very clear groundwork about expectations and the relationship itself.
4. You don’t have to have all the answers to make decisions when you’re running your business, because you’ll never get all the information. So, be prepared to make decisions without all the information and also be comfortable knowing that most mistakes will not completely collapse the business.”
And from Rags:
5. “Be true. Hold on to the values that you hold dear.
6. Wear your passion on your sleeve. Allow yourself expression.
7. Buckle up for some stress. Show patience. Be prepared for long days, short nights, not a lot of money and a whole lot of mental and spiritual fulfillment.
8. A lot of the time, there is no glory. Just your dream and a big mess of sweat, and sometimes blood and tears. Bask in that, because you are doing what you love. Never be afraid.”
Rags and Cash competed in the Food Network’s Donut Showdown and faced the tough-talking judges just one year after opening. How was the experience?
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photos courtesy of Cartems Donuterie