Cohen’s clients include some of the biggest names in tech, from Apple and Amazon to Facebook and Google, as well as sports organizations like the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland A’s and the Golden State Warriors, who’ve called upon Harvey’s to cater corporate and philanthropic events.
Celebrities have popped a few Harvey’s doughnuts, too. “I’ve served Snoop Dogg, Bruno Mars and The Killers (rock band),” among others, Cohen said. There’s a universal appeal for fresh doughnuts that arguably are considered cute, too, at not quite 2 inches in diameter and smothered with tasty toppings.
“Doughnuts live in their own world,” Cohen said. “We’re the biggest hit wherever we go.” Plus, with the mini size of a Harvey’s doughnut, they’re “a fraction of the guilt.”
Harvey’s is a family operation. Cohen and his wife of 47 years, Georgia Cohen, work with their two daughters, Maryn Cohen, who serves as general manager, and Zorelle Cohen-Nochez, who helps out as needed. They have from eight to 15 employees, plus temporary help, depending on their catering schedule.
Last year Harvey’s provided mini doughnuts at 75 weddings. “Most of them didn’t have a cake. We were the cake,” Cohen said. Yelp reviews and online testimonials toast Harvey’s for adding fun, flavor and festivity to celebrations.
Harvey’s averages 20 to 25 special events each month, from corporate programs to private birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries and other gatherings. San Francisco-based software company Salesforce holds the record for the biggest booking, with Harvey’s making 21,000 mini doughnuts from scratch in three hours at a massive Christmas gala at Hunters Point in San Francisco.
The pace is a bit more relaxed in El Verano, where customers can watch the doughnut machine in action, play a game of cornhole or sit at tables to relax with friends or relatives.
In addition to a coffee bar at the pop-ups, Harvey’s offers 55 different craft root beers like Frostie and Sioux City, plus Jack Black’s Dead Red Root Beer and the Dang! That’s Good brand with flavors like butterscotch root beer.
Luke Tarap, 10, and his brother Jake Tarap, 8, were enjoying bottles of root beer with their doughnuts at a recent pop-up night. They stopped by with their parents, Jeff and Jenny Tarap, and their grandfather, Dennis Gilge, who was visiting from Wausau, Wisconsin.
“I came 2,000 miles for this,” Gilge said. “I’ve never had a hot doughnut, before but they’re very good.”
The family tried three combinations, all earning thumbs up. Fourth-grader Luke recommends “the maple-bacon one. It has a lot of flavor.” His brother had a differing opinion. “I like the powdered (sugar) one,” said Jake, a second-grader.
Nearby, Lia and Peter Scarborough were visiting with Claudia Marino as their daughter, Cora Scarborough, 5, played with wooden blocks with Marino’s daughter, 4-year-old Charlie Graybehl. The girls had finished their share of mini doughnuts covered with chocolate glaze and rainbow sprinkles.
It was Marino’s first visit to Harvey’s. The doughnuts, she said, “are delicious, super yummy, and it’s super fun.”
The Scarboroughs were hardly newcomers. The couple married at the El Verano doughnut venue in July of 2015, but opted for wedding cake instead of doughnuts, but only because Lia had worked for Harvey’s and didn’t want any of her friends working on her wedding day.
The couple highly recommends the mini doughnuts. “You want to eat them fresh, and it’s definitely an experience watching them being made and eating them there,” Lia said.
For Cohen, Harvey’s is something “that pleases everybody and makes them smile.” A former longtime art show vendor of framed antique flower and vegetable seed packets, he was considering career options as the economy tanked in 2007.
He recalled meeting the inventor of the mini doughnut machine in the early 1990s and thought perhaps he could turn mini doughnuts into a hot new pursuit. The entrepreneur set up at a Maker Faire in San Mateo with his newly acquired machine — now considered vintage by baking industry standards — and served up the treats along with glossy flyers inviting corporate event planners to give him a call.
The phone began ringing immediately “and it’s never stopped,” Cohen said. “I didn’t know the power of the doughnut. It’s in its own world, its own entity. Doughnuts don’t compete with anything.”